On September 12, 2017, Young Women In Bio hosted an event called "STEM CELLS… All the cool kids are discovering them!" at the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) in Oakland, CA. The goal of the event was to educate young students about stem cell research and careers in science. 20 high school aged girls attended representing 11 different high schools across the Bay Area. The event kicked off with welcome remarks from CIRM’s Chairman of the Board, Dr. Jonathan Thomas and President and CEO, Dr. Maria Millan.
Dr. Thomas spoke about the exciting potential the field of regenerative medicine holds and the interesting career opportunities it offers to young students. Dr. Millan shared her experience as a transplant surgeon and clinical trial management. She focused on the important role of keeping the patients first in this field and shared stories of patients who have had their diseases cured after participating in CIRM-funded clinical trials.
After welcoming remarks, the program started with a presentation by Website & Social Media Manager, Dr. Karen Ring, who shared CIRM’s purpose to fund promising stem cell research in California and its mission to accelerate stem cell treatments to patients with unmet medical needs. Dr. Ring also shared her passion for her other role as the Program Director for a CIRM funded high school internship program called SPARK. This summer program is a hands-on experience where students learn about stem cells and regenerative medicine and conduct a six-week research internship in a stem cell lab. Many girls in attendance were very interested in applying to one the local Bay Area SPARK programs.
Next, Senior Science Officer, Dr. Kelly Shepard gave a talk on the fundamentals of stem cells. She focused on the different types of stem cells, where to find them in the body, how to use them to model disease and develop therapies, and what makes them unique. She then focused on a particular stem cell-based therapy for patients with type I diabetes, which is currently being tested in a CIRM funded clinical trial. Throughout the presentation the girls and the YWIB volunteers had many questions for Dr. Shepard on how stem cells work and where the research field is heading.
The event was rounded off with pizza provided by Global Blood Therapeutics and a career panel featuring three CIRM team members including Senior Science Officer(s), Lila Collins and Lisa Kadyk, and Grants Management Specialist Michele Carter. YWIB volunteer and CIRM Grants Management Specialist Jennifer Mielnicki led the panel in a discussion of each of the staff’s careers in science - from where they went to college to why they pursued a career in science. The panelists told personal stories of why they were drawn to the sciences. Then the discussion focused on each of the women’s roles at CIRM and what they do each day to advance the agency’s mission to help patients.
The students provided feedback from the event and said they enjoyed learning about the potential applications of stem cell research and the current impact of stem cell therapies. Many highlighted the positive of experience of engaging first hand with women in the field of science and learning about their different career paths. Overall, the students reported that the program gave them an opportunity to ask specific questions of science professionals, and that they can see how important regenerative medicine is and will be in the future for developing new therapies. Here are some of their lesson learned:
• “There are many different ways to be a scientist, and you don’t have to always conform to the most common path.”
• “How many scenarios stem cells can be used to cure? It’s like it’s a canvas for an artist’s creativity to create solutions left and right.”
• “That I’m interested in stem cells and the research being conduction – it’s a growing field and it’s fascinating!”
YWIB-San Francisco Bay Area is thankful to the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine for welcoming these girls and sharing their knowledge and experiences. This event was inspiring for the students but also for the parents and volunteers in attendance to learn the potential of regenerative medicine.
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