The 2018 ESHS graduate completed four years in the Biomedical Science Pathway, which put her in an excellent position to be accepted to the prestigious High School Outreach Research Week hosted by Cedars Sinai. The purpose of the internship program is to promote stem cell research awareness and have students learn about the use of stem cells for translational studies in regenerative medicine as a means for accelerating the delivery of stem cell based therapies to patients with unmet needs.
Johnson is currently completing her first semester at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, Calif., where she is a double major studying both biology and chemistry. She plans to pursue a career as a medical researcher. “After completing my bachelor’s degree, I will need to decide on a focus or specialty for graduate school related to the type of research I might want to conduct in the future.”
At Cedars Sinai, Johnson was placed in the Regenerative Medicine Institute’s Svendson Laboratory. According to its website, the research lab is dedicated to studying neurodegenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease using stem cells as a disease treatment, as well as a tool for modeling these diseases in vitro. Clive Svendsen, PhD, has significant experience in studying these diseases over the last twenty years and is merging his experience with the use of leading-edge technologies, such as inducible pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells).
During her week at Cedars Sinai, she was paired with a researcher in the lab to stain and study iPS cells to ensure they reached neural progenitor stage. Staining means adding antibodies with attached fluorophores that bind to biomarkers on the cell membrane. The neural progenitor stage signifies the halfway point on a stem cell’s journey to become a neuron, so it lets the researchers know the added growth factors are working.
They also worked on growing motor neurons in a dish to test different medications as potential treatments for motor neuron diseases. This included scraping off differentiated cells before the presence of added growth factors, replacing the media (liquid full of cell nutrients) each day, and transferring the cells to new plates once they fully covered the bottom of the old culture. In addition to working in the research laboratory, student participants also prepared a presentation that they delivered to the Regenerative Medicine Institute’s scientists.
“I was so excited to find out about the research being conducted in the Svendson Laboratory because I was learning about Alzheimer’s disease in the Biomedical Science Pathway at ESHS and doing related research for my senior capstone project,” said Johnson.
Her senior capstone project attempted to answer the question: If neurons generate in an embryo, can we make neurons regenerate in adults? For her research project, Johnson applied theories from cell regeneration to explore ways to have damaged neurons regenerate back to a healthy state in patients developing Alzheimer’s. “The project ended up being way bigger and more advanced than I had planned,” said Johnson. “However, I developed a five-stage process for this particular research I was conducting.”
“Choosing the Biomedical Science Pathway at ESHS was a catalyst that changed my life,” said Johnson. “I like helping others and I love cell biology. I also took AP Biology, which was a complement to all the Biomedical Science classes—they worked well together, especially when applied to the research projects we conducted. It was an incredible experience that gave me a solid foundation for my university coursework. I am familiar with some of the concepts I’m learning now at Point Loma because of the Biomedical Science Pathway.”