Students Get Insider's View of Medical Research

High school students were able to view a human brain and isolate their own DNA when the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute hosted its second Short Term Educational Experience in Research program. The daylong event, held March 24 at the Advanced Health Sciences Pavilion, gave the budding scientists an insider's view of medical research.

Sixteen students from Pacifica High School in Oxnard participated. They toured state-of-the-art laboratories and heard talks by staff from the institute's eye and brain programs.

"The dynamic of being in a laboratory setting is very different than a classroom," said Alysia Caldwell, management assistant and coordinator of the Regenerative Medicine Institute High School Outreach Program. "The day gave students an intimate view of what researchers do so that they were able to see how it relates to what is taught in the classroom."

Leslie Valerio, a senior at Pacifica High School, said she attended the event to learn what scientific research involves on a daily basis. The tour of the facilities was the highlight of her day. "In the future I hope to become a dentist and do research," she said. "The tour was incredible because it allowed us to see what the inside of a scientific laboratory consists of."

The human brain that students viewed had been donated to a program at UCLA and was borrowed for the event. To examine their own DNA, the students extracted the genetic material from their saliva.

In an interactive portion of the day, students role-played medical scenarios involving the use of stem cells — unspecialized cells that can generate various specialized cells, with wide applications in research and experimental treatments. Taking on the roles of the patient, the doctor, a religious leader and others, the students debated ethical issues involving these applications.

"The activity gave students the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding of stem cells and apply it to a rational discussion about ethics in research and medicine," said Virginia Mattis, PhD, research scientist and co-coordinator of the outreach program.

Besides Mattis, staff members who participated in the event included:

  • Aslam Akhtar, a Graduate Student Association committee member and student in the laboratory of Joshua Breunig, PhD, assistant professor of Biomedical Sciences
  • David Rushton, research associate
  • Sharon Carmona, research associate
  • Gretchen Miller, PhD, postdoctoral fellow
  • Marina Dutra-Clarke, research associate

The first Short Term Educational Experience in Research program, or STEER, was held Nov. 11. That event involved middle- and high-school students from A-MAN Inc. STEM International Science Discovery and Learning Center in Inglewood, was Nov. 11.

"We are hoping that this is just the beginning. We envision more occurrences throughout the year and are considering the possibility of focusing on a different disease for each future STEER session," said Caldwell.

The institute's outreach program also includes an annual Research Week, when high school students study stem cells and how they are used to model and treat disease. Such programs help the institute, directed by Clive Svendsen, PhD, professor of Biomedical Sciences and Medicine, fulfill its mission of providing outreach and support to Greater Los Angeles regarding stem cells and regenerative medicine.