A SPARK-tacular Experience by Tracy Ly

If there’s one word that defines my time at the Nolta lab this summer, it would be: SPARK-tacular.


This CIRM SPARK program has given me so much exposure to how the research world is like, and I am sincerely grateful for this opportunity. It allowed to me to understand how it was like to work and think like a scientist (almost…I’m only a high school student). Not only did this program expose me to research, but also to other aspects of the science and medical field.

We had guest lectures from amazing and talented doctors: Dr. Kupperman, Dr. Belafsky, and Dr. Wheelock. Dr. Kupperman lectured to us about his past research to help prevent unnecessary CAT scans in children and its dangers if there were no regulations for doctors to figure out if a CAT scan was needed in a patient. Dr. Belafsky, with the help of our fellow SPARK intern, Saja Zidan, showed us what vocal chords looked like when singing “Star Spangled Banner” (seriously, Saja is a natural-born singer). Lastly, Dr. Wheelock taught us about Huntington’s disease, its effect on patients, and possible treatments. Hearing lectures from Dr. Kupperman and Dr. Wheelock and visiting Dr. Belafsky’s clinic was an addition that introduced us to fields outside of research.

Besides the lectures and clinic visits, being able to work at the Nolta lab is such a wonderful experience. I mainly worked with genotyping immune deficient mouse models that would help test stem cells or gene therapeutics for Huntington’s disease. Huntington’s disease (HD) is a progressive neuropsychiatric genetic disorder that involves the degeneration of nerve cells over time and eventually leads patients to death usually within 10 to 20 years after onset. It can affect both adults and children (juvenile onset). HD is fatal to patients and affects them both physically and mentally. Genotyping immune deficient mice to determine if they inherited the disease (transgenic) or if they did not (wild type) gives us mice for experimental and control groups used in translational research needed before stem cells and gene therapeutics can be used on human patients.

With genotyping, I really built my skills on DNA extraction, using the nanodrop, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and gel electrophoresis. And in all honesty – I loved every moment of it. From using the flexible pipette tips to remove the tiny amount of ethanol, combining the master mix, primers, dimethyl sulfoxide, and PCR-qualify water, and loading the gels…all to genotype mice used in translational research for an incurable disease. It’s crazy to think that such simple procedures compared to others could go such a long way to help treat or cure a disease. I will miss it.

Looking back, eight weeks of an unforgettable experience passed by really quickly. I do not know if there will be any internship experience that will top this. Not only did the internship expose me to the research world, but I also learned what it took to be a researcher. Everyone at the Nolta lab are truly intelligent, and after being with them the past eight weeks, I learned that it was not only about the brains, but also one’s dedication and personality to persevere through the many trials of failure and success.

Thank you CIRM, the SPARK program, UC Davis’ Institute for Regenerative Cures, and my mentor Jeannine White for the amazing experience that ignited and kindled my passion for science.




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