Keck School launches programs for budding stem cell researchers

stem cell researcher
(Photo by Chris Shinn)

Two new summer education programs at the Keck School of Medicine of USC aim to give high school students with aspirations for careers in biomedical research a special opportunity to gain experience in the field.

The USC CIRM Science, Technology and Research (STAR) High School Summer Research and Creativity program will enable 10 interns to spend eight weeks working with USC scientists, gaining experience in stem cell research, communication strategies and public policy development.

In addition, the USC Early Investigator High School (EiHS) Summer program in stem cell research will place students from the Harvard-Westlake School and the Marlborough School in an eight-week program working with faculty-scientist mentors who will supervise the students learning about lab procedures, ethics and compliance. Both schools are in the Los Angeles area.

“These new summer programs will encourage students to enter the promising field of stem cell research and give them opportunities for establishing lasting friendships with other students and their faculty mentors,” said Keck School dean Carmen A. Puliafito.

The programs are among the many that USC offers to high school students interested in careers in science and medicine. Both will begin in June.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to give these nascent scientists a head start in their careers and perhaps the spark to make them want to choose stem cell research for their life’s work,” said Andrew McMahon, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad CIRM Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC. “Researchers need an appreciation of the world around them, and this program will provide that important stimulation.”

The USC STAR Summer Research program was funded by a $264,000 Creativity Award from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). USC is one of nine California institutions to receive a CIRM Creativity Award this year. The grant is administered under the USC STAR program, a collaborative science program that has existed for 23 years between USC and nearby Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School.

“Expansion of the USC STAR summer research program to the Eli and Edythe Broad Center is an exciting new chapter in our science education endeavors and partnership with Bravo High School,” said Roberta Diaz Brinton, director of the program. “Stem cell biology is one of the most exciting areas of discovery and translational research, and the researchers within the Broad Center are among the very best in the field. We are honored to have been chosen by CIRM to advance their mission and ours to create the next generation of discoverers and innovators in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.”

The STAR Summer Research program will begin with a weeklong stem cell biology techniques workshop. The interns then will join a research team within the Broad Center or an associate member laboratory, and participate in meetings and a social event to create a CIRM student network, culminating with a final research presentation by all CIRM high school student interns.

Students also will help plan a forum titled “Stem Cells, Creativity and the Public,” intended to integrate stem cell biology research with expression in the humanities, public communication and public policy decision-making.

The EiHS program offers similar experiences for budding stem cell scientists. EiHS was developed by Victoria Fox, director of the stem cell core at the Broad Center with support from Jeff Gunter, a Los Angeles-area physician and chair of the center’s advisory board.

“There is a lot of interest from high school students in Los Angeles for internships in stem cell labs,” said Fox, who directs the EiHS program. “I am enthusiastic about education and have worked with several students, but the demand became so high that we decided to start a formal program.”

Students in the EiHS program will spend the first week learning basic lab and stem cell training, seguing into forums and seminars on topics, such as conducting responsible ethical research and how to develop a professional science career. The students will conduct a mentor-supervised research project, attend seminars, author an online journal and generate a poster for an adjudicated poster session at USC.

Applications are being accepted at the Harvard-Westlake School, and the program is expected to get under way in June. Applications for the EiHS program will be selected based on grades and interest in science, as well as letters of recommendation from science teachers. Students also will be interviewed by a panel of scientists at the Keck School.

“We are honored to be a part of the EiHS program,” said Jeanne Huybrechts, head of Harvard-Westlake School. “We appreciate the opportunity to help craft this program. We plan to encourage our own most promising young investigators to participate in the program and become an integral part of the stem cell disease teams at the Keck School.”

Gunter is working with other schools in hopes of expanding the EiHS program in the future, allowing students across the region to participate.

“The EiHS program will elevate and transform our high school teenagers into promising young investigators who will lead us and our medical community in finding cures for generations to come,” Gunter said. “If our children can begin their violin studies at age 3 and formalize sports training at an age of 4, without a doubt these exceptional high school students, regardless of socioeconomic backgrounds, are ready and can succeed at our program.”