For many Southern California high school students, summer is synonymous with surf, sand and sun. But, for some of Los Angeles' top math and science students, the lure of the beach and traditional summer fun fizzles fast when compared to microscopes, slide kits and real-life stem cell research.
Armed with little more than protective gear and enthusiasm, 20 overachieving teenagers have been clocking 40-hour weeks in the lab at USC's Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research.
Among them is 17-year-old Brian Tom of Lincoln Heights.
“It’s fascinating because stem cells have all this potential to heal these degenerative diseases like Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer's," says Tom, a senior at Bravo Medical Magnet in Los Angeles. "It's amazing how you can create multiple tissues from one cell."
Stem cells offer promise as a treatment or cure for many diseases because they can be can induced to morph into other cell types — such as brain, muscle or skin cells. Stem cells can also divide without limit, which gives them the potential to repair and replace damaged tissue.
“You can just imagine the possibilities," says Sophie McAllister, a 17-year-old senior at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles. McAllister works with a USC mentor on cardiac cell regeneration.
Two programs, one goal
McAllister and nine other students are in a program that's privately funded by two donors with ties to USC. Meanwhile, Tom and his summer school classmates are studying under a statewide program funded by the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), a voter-created agency that funds stem cell research throughout California.