Research Week Review: 'Unforgettable'

High school student Amir Siminou (left) works on a project during Research Week at the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute.

"Unforgettable." That's how student Nicole Gasparian described her experience at the fourth annual Research Week program at the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute.

Nicole was among 19 high school students from throughout Southern California who conducted research with state-of-the art equipment, toured Cedars-Sinai facilities and attended scientific lectures at the July 20-24 session. On the final day, they presented results of their research.

"It was amazing that I had the opportunity to use a microscope worth over $100,000," said Gasparian, who is entering her senior year at El Camino Real Charter High School in Woodland Hills.

The goal of Research Week is to inform young scholars of the profound impact that scientific education and research can make on the future of medicine, according to the organizers. The program focuses on stem cell research and how this rapidly growing field of science may ultimately help treat disease. This field makes use of pluripotent stem cells, which can be programmed to produce any cell of the human body.

During one activity, Gasparian and two fellow students dissected the eye of a laboratory rat. Under the mentorship of Melissa Jones, a Cedars-Sinai PhD student, they learned how to expose the eye's retina and evaluate cell growth in an eye that was previously treated with stem cells versus an untreated eye.

(left to right) Students Emma Schechter, Rachel Seritskiy and Brenda Chicas review research data.

(left to right) High school students Byron Corado, Nathan Lam and Joshua Sanmartin confer with Cedars Sinai graduate student Aslam Akhtar during Research Week.

Students also toured the $30-million Cedars-Sinai Imaging Core facility. Led by Wafa Tawackoli, PhD, technical director of the core and assistant professor of Academic Affairs, they learned about the many capabilities of the imaging modalities. These capabilities include those of the newly acquired Siemens Biograph mMR, which can simultaneously acquire magnetic resonance and positron emission tomography data across the whole body in just under an hour.

Research Week was the culmination of a yearlong High School Outreach Program in which students attended lectures by postdoctoral fellows and researchers at Cedars-Sinai to gain a foundation for more interactive work. The lectures typically include an introduction to regenerative medicine and current stem cell research and technology.

More than 40 students from 16 high schools applied to be part of this year's Research Week. A committee, including program director Alysia Caldwell, management assistant at the Regenerative Medicine Institute, and research scientist Virginia Mattis, PhD, evaluated each application based on criteria such as grade point average and essay quality to determine eligibility.

Caldwell and Mattis, who serves as a coordinator for the program, said they look forward to future Research Weeks.

"Virginia and I are delighted with the outcome of the program. Every year has exceeded and surpassed our expectations, and we look forward to the years to come," said Caldwell.

Students who wish to participate in next year's program must first apply to be teen volunteers through Volunteer Services. Applications will become available in February 2016. For more information, please contact Caldwell at