As I walked into the Nolta Lab, I felt a rush of adrenaline. I had so many questions that needed to be answered. Who is going to be my mentor? What is my project about? Will I have any homework? I told myself to just calm down and go with the flow. The first two days were primarily focused on Biosafety Training and Lab Tours. Having a tour throughout the lab made me feel like a kid in a candy store. I was curious about all of the equipment especially the liquid nitrogen freezer farm. One of my biggest concerns was communicating with all of the highly educated and skilled researchers. What if I said something wrong and gave a bad impression? As I was meeting them, I realized how easy they were to talk to, especially my mentor, Catherine. I was having a conversation with them just like how I would with my high school friends.
Inside of the Liquid Nitrogen Freezer Farm!
The Lab Work
Throughout the following weeks Catherine and I primarily focused on karyotyping cells for ongoing projects and creating vectors for gene therapy. During the initial weeks, I had my first experience inside a biosafety cabinet. I was fearful about contaminating my sample and making a big mess by knocking things over in the hood. Fortunately, I got passed the learning curve quickly and became very efficient at sterile technique. A process that initially took me 20 minutes to do became 5 minutes. At this point, I was assigned my project of testing methods to increase the titer of Adeno-Associated Virus. I also got experience karyotyping cells by matching chromosomes and looking for abnormalities. I recall my first time karyotyping there were all of these chromosomes all over the place and they all looked like little worms. When my mentor matched up a pair, it blew my mind how alike two chromosomes are.
Making Transfection Media inside the Biosafety Cabinet
One of the most interesting experiences during the internship was meeting Dr. Belafsky (a specialist in the treatment of the ear, throat, and nose) in his examination room at the UC Davis hospital. He began the lecture by asking us which one of us would like a free medical examination. 3 of us volunteered and he made us choose a number between 1-10. Fortunately, I didn’t choose the right number because he was giving an ENT exam, which assesses the nose, ear, and throat. This was done by taking a tube with a camera and inserting it through the nose to get a view of the muscles inside the throat. This was very entertaining because the student being examined was told to sing at the same time the camera had a view of their throat. At the end of the examination, Dr. Belafsky told us about his experiences in medical school and his habits that enabled him to be successful.
The Class and Dr. Bauer
Taking the Introduction to Stem Cells class taught by Dr. Bauer was an amazing experience. Everything I learned ranging from the mechanisms of Gene Therapy to GMP manufacturing was being applied to real life clinical trials. When I was studying for the midterm, I was studying to pass the test, but I found myself studying out of interest. Learning all of these concepts that were recently discovered gave me a satisfying feeling of accomplishment. Also It was extremely interesting to get to know Dr. Bauer. As Dr. Bauer was proofreading my poster, he caught a grammar error due to his expertise in Latin. He explained to me how learning Latin is crucial to becoming a biologist because most medical terminology have Latin stems.
GMP Testing Day!
Working in the Nolta Lab and taking Dr. Bauer’s class was an amazing and unforgettable experience. I will most definitely miss the intelligent, funny community of down-to-earth researchers and the feeling of being a biomedical researcher. I am looking forward to advancing my career in science and knowing that everyday stem cell and gene therapies are becoming safer and more effective, this makes me excited for the future. I would like to thank the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine for giving me and future students to come such an amazing opportunity.