On Tuesday afternoon, Joshua Khorsandi was hard at work at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Regenerative Medicine Institute, using a dropper to place clear liquid into containers for the centrifuge, which would then aggregate valuable stem cells.
Pluripotent stem cells can be turned into any type of human cell, making them invaluable for researchers looking to recreate environments found in the human body without putting living people at risk.
With these synthesized fallopian tubes, blood-brain barriers and more, scientists can try to find out how ovarian cancer begins, why certain drugs are ineffective and other life-saving discoveries.
At Cedars-Sinai, many researchers are renowned experts in their field, but Khorsandi is not one of them. At least, not yet. For now, he’s a 17-year-old preparing for his senior year at Beverly Hills High School. Khorsandi and classmate Eva Danesh, also 17, are two of the 13 students participating in High School Research Week at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Regenerative Medicine Institute, which takes place from July 22-26.
This is the ninth year of the program, and Danesh said she’s been waiting for the past four to reach the minimum age of 17 so she could participate.
“I just always loved science, and I always love doing labs in school and researching. And I find that it’s so fascinating and interesting that we have the power to do this,” she said.
Khorsandi said the program gives him a chance to pursue his passion.
“How you’re working with living organisms is really cool,” Khorsandi said. “[Stem cells] could change our future.”
Khorsandi and Danesh are both getting a head start on their desired careers. They plan to pursue medicine, research or a combination of the two. As part of the Research Week program, they work with professionals who are doing just that.
One of the mentors, Veronica Garcia, focuses on neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Garcia, who is also the director of high school outreach for the institute, said the students are getting hands-on experience that is hard to find at such a young age, and when it comes to careers in medical research, the sooner someone finds their passion, the further they can go.
“I started working in a restaurant in high school, and look where I am now. I imagine most of these kids are going to be like Nobel laureates,” she said.
The students are also meeting people and learning how to network with professionals in a field where such connections can be extremely helpful. For instance, Garcia said it was serendipitous that she met a former Cedars-Sinai employee who knew the institute was looking for someone with a specialty in motor neuron physiology, in which Garcia specialized.
Another mentor, researcher Samuel Sances, was part of the Cedars-Sinai team featured in National Geographic earlier this year for their research using organs-on-chips technology, which recreates the environment cells experience in organs in the human body.
Sances said he’s always impressed with the students’ presentations at the end of the week, as well as the role they play in making scientific discoveries. For instance, one experiment the students are working on is novel enough that the professionals have no idea how it will end, Sances said.
“It’s actually pretty amazing that these kids get a chance to put hands on some really cutting-edge technology,” Sances said.
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