First day in the lab: researchers are hunched over their laptops, eyes glued to their respective screens, navigating through complex scientific papers, a shaker is gently rocking back and forth a plate of cells in pink media, a stirrer is furiously clacking against the walls of its flask, which is labelled PEPSIN, and people with gloved hands are milling around performing various laboratory procedures. My eyes roam across the new, foreign surroundings, taking in everything all at once. There are beakers and vortexes and pipettes and flasks and tubes and syringes and I am so excited to start working.
There was so much material that I had to learn about my project and about the research that was completed in the lab. As I listened to my mentor explain the details of the project that I would be working on over the summer, I bombarded him with questions. What do stem cells have to do with 3D printing? Can’t printing kill the cells? What is differentiation? What are iPS cells? How do they relate to cardiomyocytes? Have you printed cells before? Why do you want to print heart cells? Do heart cells in media actually beat? I wanted to learn as much as I could.
I’ve now seen cardiomyocytes in culture, I know what steps are involved in differentiation. And yes, they actually beat. I’ve seen a 3D bioprinter in action and have been able to play with the controls of the machine. I was able to cut up actual pig heart tissue and watch as all the cells were washed away to yield decellularized tissue. I’ve cultured my endothelial cells and watched them being printed and have seen their growth after the print. On the other hand, I’ve gained amazing relationships with my fellow lab members and have been able to acquire valuable information from them in terms of research, science careers, and future options for me.
The one element of my time at Stanford that really resonated with me was that research is such an essential tool. After actually performing experiments themselves, I could understand the complicated processes explained in textbooks and publications. This summer will always be the first time that I was introduced to such innovative ideas, creative people, and astounding research.