Stem Cell Research Week Is Eye-Opener for Teens

Clive Svendsen, PhD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute, chats with students Aidan Pham (center) and Ruslan Gadilov on the final day of Research Week, part of the institute's High School Outreach Program.

How do you get teenagers to bounce out of bed in the morning? Send them to Cedars-Sinai's Research Week.

"I woke up every day before my alarm because the program was so exciting," said Ruslan Gadilov, a recent graduate from Fairfax High School who participated in the July 21-25 session. "This opportunity allowed me to learn more about the future of stem cells and to consider multiple career possibilities in the medical field. I just loved every part of it."

Since 2011, the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute's High School Outreach Program, which culminates in Research Week, has given local students a chance to participate in the growing field of stem cell research. This field focuses on how to use induced pluripotent stem cells – skin cells that have been genetically engineered back to an embryonic-like state – to study and treat diseases.

This year, a record 21 students from 12 schools across Southern California participated in Research Week, making it the most well attended to date. The budding scientists spent five days on the Cedars-Sinai campus learning how to do stem cell research in small group settings alongside top experts in the field.

Gadilov's group worked in a laboratory studying the relationship between stem cells and Crohn's disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract. The students cultured induced pluripotent stem cells to help find and identify markers of the disease.

On July 25, more than 70 Cedars-Sinai researchers, physicians and mentors, along with the students' parents, gathered in the Advanced Health Sciences Pavilion for the final group presentations. The students described their experiences and what they learned and answered questions from the audience.

Barry R. Stripp, PhD, director of the lung stem cell research program at Cedars-Sinai, was among the audience members who participated in a Q&A session after the student presentations.

Research Week is the second phase of the high school outreach program. During the first phase, which takes place throughout the school year, the students attend lectures by postdoctoral fellows from the institute.

Co-coordinators Alysia Caldwell and Virginia Mattis, PhD, said they were especially pleased with the number of this year’s participants, which has more than doubled since the program’s inception.

"This program was established upon one of our department's core mission values: to provide outreach and support to the Greater Los Angeles community regarding stem cells and regenerative medicine," said Mattis, a postdoctoral researcher in the institute. "It is a unique opportunity to inspire the next generation of scientists by introducing them to the exciting world of regenerative medicine."

Student and mentor applications for next year’s program will be made available during the first week of February 2015. For more information, please contact Alysia Caldwell at alysia.caldwell@cshs.org or visit the program's Web page.