USC offers a summer of stem cells for local high school students

Sriram Rao, a high school student from Harvard-Westlake School in the USC EiHS program, worked in the lab of Ruchi Bajpai in the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. (Photo by Cristy Lytal)
Sriram Rao, a high school student from Harvard-Westlake School in the USC EiHS program, worked in the lab of Ruchi Bajpai in the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC. (Photo by Cristy Lytal)

Twenty-three local high school students spent their summer vacations in a very unusual place: the Eli and Edythe Broad CIRM Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC.

This August, these students celebrated their graduations from the USC Early Investigator High School (EiHS) and the USC CIRM Science, Technology and Research (STAR) programs. These are the only programs that offer comprehensive training in stem cell research to high school students.

“The goal of these unique programs is to educate bright young minds at the stage where they’re still formulating ideas and still open and receptive to new discoveries, and introduce them to the wonder and inspirational power of stem cell biology,” said Andy McMahon, director of USC’s stem cell research center and the Department of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, and head of the university-wide USC Stem Cell initiative uniting more than 100 researchers from all disciplines.

Over the course of the summer, the high school students participated in either a ten-day training course or eight-week research internship, working hands-on with human stem cells in USC’s world-class laboratories.

Under the mentorship of USC faculty and graduate students, the students learned about the latest advances in regenerative medicine and explored stem cells, ethics and public policy.

Roberta Diaz Brinton, director of the CIRM STAR program, paid tribute to the accomplishments of the students.

“We’re very impressed by the caliber of science and more impressed by the caliber of young minds. These young scientists are generating the new knowledge from which stem cell biology and stem cell therapies will progress in the future,” said Brinton, professor at the USC School of Pharmacy, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and an executive committee member of USC Stem Cell.

Victoria Fox, director of the EiHS program, extended her thanks to everyone who contributed to the experience.

“The EiHS program made possible by a team of very incredible people that starts with my laboratory staff and includes donors, the students, the administrators of the stem cell research center and the mentors who take the students in their laboratories,” she said. “I’m very grateful to all of these people.”

This year’s participants were selected from Harvard-Westlake School, Lifeline Education Charter School, Chadwick School and Bravo Medical Magnet High School, and many received scholarships.

“The program has motivated our students to be college ready by giving them the opportunity to work in a university setting,” said Obed Nartey, principal of Lifeline Education Charter School. “Many of these students are the first generation to graduate from high school. For these students, college was seen as being out of reach until they met and worked with Dr. Fox and her team.”

On graduation day, the students shared their transformative summer experiences with their mentors, friends, parents and teachers by presenting scientific posters and by contributing articles to the program’s new EiHS Journal, which will publish its inaugural issue in October.

“Being able to contribute to a scientific project that can play an important role in someone’s life is an amazing opportunity, and I would not trade it for the world,” said Marialuisa Flores, a student from Lifeline Education Charter School in the EiHS program. “It was a very enjoyable learning experience, which has made a great impact on my life and future career.”