February 13, 2013 -- Much has been said of the fact that American students are falling behind in science; minority students in particular are under-represented and do not tend to choose science as a career path. One doctor and research scientist, with a longstanding interest in education and training, was determined to change this pattern. He established a unique training program that brings minority high school students in the Los Angeles area into working laboratories, and entices them with the excitement of scientific discovery. Now, with the help of high end research microscope instruments donated by Carl Zeiss, the students have experienced that coveted “Aha! moment” that has certainly changed their outlook, and hopefully set them on a lifelong pursuit of scientific knowledge.
Establishment of innovative internship program
Emil Bogenmann, PhD, EdD, director for Research Education at The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, established the innovative Latino & African American High School Internship Program (LA-HIP) in 2005. LA-HIP is biomedical summer research and college preparatory program for Latino and African American senior high school students who live or attend school in South or East Los Angeles. Interns work for six weeks in medical research labs performing hands-on experiments relevant to childhood diseases.
The program is a natural progression of Dr. Bogenmann’s 20-year involvement in training high school students, undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows. While pursuing a Doctor in Education degree, with a subspecialty in educational psychology, Dr. Bogenmann’s interest was piqued in two areas: how to motivate young people to get excited about science, and how diversity affects learning and educational outcomes.
LA-HIP combines these two important concerns. Focused on a target audience of Latinos and African Americans, the predominant under-represented minorities, the program focused on incoming high school seniors, so it promotes college entry. Starting with eight students recruited from poor and immigrant areas of south LA in 2005, the annual program now accepts 16 minority students who participate in the 6-week paid biomedical research internship. The students and their families also receive other support to help them navigate the college admissions process. The program received 2-year NIH funding from 2009-2011 and is now supported by a host of other foundations and donors.
The LA-HIP program begins with a laboratory training course, during which the 16 interns work in small groups to learn the fundamentals of laboratory experimentation, note taking and conduct. After this introduction, they perform five weeks of hands-on research in the laboratories of principal investigators at The Saban Research Institute. Their research focuses on the biology of infectious agents and their mechanisms of actions, metastasis and invasive behavior of cancer cells, lung development, organ injury and repair and zebrafish heart regeneration, among other topics.
Students work full time, performing sophisticated experiments normally not learned until graduate school. The internship concludes with a science symposium at which all LA-HIP interns present their research accomplishments to guests, families, hospital leadership, trustees, scientists and mentors.
Roxana Rodriguez, a senior at Bravo Medical Magnet High School worked in the laboratory of Dr. Bouret studying neuronal circuitry formation during early mouse brain development. Staining brain slices with fluorescent antibodies and viewing them with a ZEISS confocal microscope exposed Roxana to the cutting edge of high tech microscopy. Roxana was so enthusiastic about her work that she declared that her career will involve research and medicine, saying, “LA-HIP helped me decide that I still want a career in science and in medicine in the future. Overall, LAHIP has been a pivotal point in my life that will help me reach my current and long-term goals.”
Similarly, Jackie Hernandez, senior at Aspire High School and her lab partner Stephanie Leyva, senior at the California Academy of Math and Science (CAMS), obtained intriguing results in their studies of brain invasion by bacteria. They demonstrated that avian specific bacterial pathogens are equally if not more invasive into human brain endothelial cells than there human counterpart.
These are the kinds of results that Dr. Bogenmann works for, and the reason he created the program. One student said of the program, “LA-HIP has granted me an opportunity of a lifetime. Before coming to the Saban, I never knew anything about researching and I never thought I would be in a lab interning as a researcher. LA-HIP has assured me that there are so many things that I have yet to learn, and I am excited that I still have time to learn those things.”
Sophisticated microscopy equipment generates excitement
As the LA-HIP program grew, Dr. Bogenmann was looking for ways to give the students an “Aha! moment,” demonstrating the excitement of scientific discovery while simultaneously introducing them to the powerful research tools at their disposal. For this, he turned to Mark Mobilia, a local sales representative for Carl Zeiss Microscopy, which has supplied research grade fluorescence, laser scanning, and laser dissection microscopes to Children’s Hospital for years.
Dr. Bogenmann requested that Carl Zeiss supply equipment, technical support, and time to help out with the 6-week program. Mobilia jumped at the chance. “I was a research scientist before joining Carl Zeiss, and I was gratified to be able to give back to the community, demonstrate that science is fun and exciting, and have a hand in training the next generation of American scientists,” said Mobilia.
Carl Zeiss supplied a Stemi 2000C stereo microscope with an AxioCam ERc 5s camera, which can also work as a stand-alone imaging station. Mobilia has worked to install the equipment and provide technical support during the course of the program.
Dr. Bogenmann conceived of an experiment using planaria worms (flat worms) to illustrate regeneration in a very dramatic fashion. Students would begin by observing the worm under the microscope, then amputate the head from the body, photograph it again, leave it for a few days, and then observe the worm under the microscope a few days later to find – both the trunk and the head regenerated complete new animals! The availability of top-notch Zeiss stereomicroscopic equipment fostered the plan to excite the students and teach them proper lab techniques at the same time.
“Students come here in the first week to learn laboratory fundamentals so they can learn how to isolate DNA and look at microscopic cells and tissue, but many biological concepts such as stem cells and their potentials are difficult to envision,” said Dr. Bogenmann. “So this year I conceived this experiment as a way for students to personally experience the regenerative process of stem cells, as they observed pieces of the planaria regenerating into new planaria with head and tail.”
The availability of the powerful microscope and digital camera hooked to a laptop enabled the students to take pictures and make observations on their own specimens. They even collaborated with Dr. Sanchez and his laboratory at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, Kansas City, planaria experts who provided them with siRNA molecules for one gene extremely important to head regeneration. Feeding these siRNA molecules before amputation created new planaria that had structure on both ends of the animal, thus demonstrating the power of gene expression during the regrenerative process.
The planaria experiment was a huge hit with students, and Dr. Bogenmann is already strategizing about spending more time on the experiment next year before the students head off to their research labs. He hopes to obtain even more sophisticated camera equipment so the media-savvy interns can record short videos of the different stages of the planaria regenerative process. They will then assemble them into a longer video demonstrating the amazing process, spreading the “Aha! moment” to their home school, friends, parents, and the wider community.
“The students showed great intelligence and maturity, the experiment worked perfectly, and it was an excellent way to get kids motivated about science,” noted Mobilia. “Carl Zeiss is fully committed to helping recruit more minorities into science. We have already made plans to supply equipment for next year’s crop of interns, and even hope to increase our financial and technical support.”