There is no such thing as a typical day for a CIRM SPARK student intern at the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures. Because my mentor, Whitney Cary, is not only in charge of the Stem Cell Core, but is also the lab manager, my day usually begins with restocking the lab. This is a very important step to start off the day because all the people in the lab use the common materials that we supply. Not to mention moving these boxes has helped me gain some arm muscle (I did not expect that a science internship would require muscles)! The next task that is needed to be completed daily is to make 70% ethanol (which is when I get to use my favorite 4000 mL graduated cylinder!), fill the Nanopure water, and make 1XTAE to supply the lab with those common fluids.
Using a huge graduated cylinder to make a large amount of 70% ethanol that is used to clean everything in the lab, which is very, very important!
After restocking and making fluids, it is time to work on my project! Cells are traditionally grown on a feeder layer called mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEF) which supports the cells by keeping them pluripotent. However, scientists are moving towards xeno-free substrates, which do not contain any animal byproduct, for clinical use of these cells. This is a huge advantage because it prevents contaminants (pathogens, etc.) from the MEFs from transferring into the human body along with the cells. Many scientific companies have created different xeno-free substrates, and my project is to test one of them called Vitronectin which is used with Essential 8 Medium. We are hoping that Vitronectin will support the cells like MEFs do.
I first began by culturing H9 human embryonic stem cells (hESC) on MEFs. During this process I change media and observe the cells on a day to day basis. Then, when the colonies have grown big enough, I would manually passage these cells. This means that I would scratch off the undifferentiated cells and divide them upon new MEF plates and continue culturing them. After a few passages on MEFs, I transferred the cells onto Vitronectin, where I continued to change media daily and manually passage them when they were ready. Everyday, I would enter the lab excited about how my cells have been growing. I am the most excited when I am looking through the microscope and scanning the plate to visually see the cells’ growth.
After working on my project for the day, I usually have other tasks to do in the tissue culture room such as making media and aliquots. When making media, there is a recipe that needs to be followed where we add the components stated and filter them through the media filter. When all of this is done, there is a Stem Cell Core tradition where we have to draw a picture on the media bottle with a permanent marker.
“No MEFs, please!” : A picture of a mouse that I’ve drawn on my Essential 8 Medium bottle. Essential 8 Medium is used to culture stem cells on a xeno-free substrate called Vitronectin.
At the end of the work day, I always look forward to returning the next morning, not only because of the wonderful work that I get to do but also the amazing people that I get to work with. I can’t believe that this internship is coming to an end, and I am extremely grateful for this amazing opportunity because it has really opened my eyes about stem cell research.
Additional Instagram posts about my experience: