When Irene Medina returned to school this fall, she had plenty of stories to tell about her summer job, "I did my first surgery on the rat, it was very interesting and exciting for me." Instead of flipping burgers, the 16-year-old was helping researchers at UCSF better understand brain function. The project is ultimately aimed at helping newborn infants survive birth traumas and other injuries. "I started thinking, what they're doing is something great," Medina said.
Across the Bay, at the University of California, Manolis Sueuga was doing some pretty great science too -- working on a study that could someday help human muscles regenerate faster, "And when we injected the old mice, we saw greatly improved muscle regeneration, so that was pretty interesting."
For both Medina and Sueuga, the path into these high end labs began with internship programs funded by CIRM, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Once in the program they're assigned mentors to guide them in real life lab assignments, "They get down to the molecular level, the genetics level, the cellular level, and they really understand the very specific parts of their project, including the literature" CIRM science officer Mani Vessal said.
The CIRM grants help fund internship programs at nine different institutions including UCSF, Stanford, Berkeley, and the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute. Irina Conboy directs the muscle research project at Berkeley, "I think it's not just an ability to little project, it's an exposure to everybody else's science."
The students are chosen from diverse backgrounds, and some are the first in their families to be exposed to science, "Even when I was explaining this project, they were blown away by the complexity," Sueuga said. And apparently some universities were impressed as well. After graduating from Berkeley High, Sueuga was accepted to Stanford, where he's now planning to study neuroscience.
The CIRM grants of more than $1.5 million have covered internship costs for some 65 students.
Written and produced by Tim Didion