Lewis County students see biomedical research firsthand

By Thatcher Heldring

August 12, 2018

UW Medicine researchers were among those giving a science boost to students in W. F. West High School’s summer camp.

UW graduate students Nisa Penland and Jonathan Tsui use an interactive game to introduce high schoolers to CRISPR gene editing

More than 40 researchers and volunteers representing 19 labs from UW Medicine  gave Lewis County high school students a glimpse last week  into the world of biomedical research. The scientists and their colleagues conducted interactive sessions at W.F. West High School in Chehalis, Wash. Afterward, the students visited UW Medicine labs in Seattle.

The UW Medicine educational component took place during the latter part of a two-week camp held at the high school’s new STEM Building.  The summer  program was designed to encourage student interest in science, technology, engineering and medicine – the STEM fields.

Researchers from the UW Medicine Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (ISCRM) showed over 40 high school students a first-hand look at  regenerative medicine, gene therapy, and the basic sciences  underlying biomedical research. U.S. Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler also came to the high school to speak with students and researchers during the first day of the program.

Dr. Charles Murry, professor of pathology and bioengineering and director of ISCRM, led UW Medicine’s participation in the STEM camp.

“Outreach is a critical part of our mission at the Institute,” said  Murry, who delivered a lesson during which students could examine actual human organs. “Taking part in the STEM summer camp is a golden opportunity for our faculty and graduate students to get the  next generation of scientists excited about science and to help them discover multiple pathways to careers in research and medicine.”

The students from Chehalis spent three days with UW researchers. During the first two days at the high school, the participants rotated through interactive stations. These spanned several topics, including heart, kidney, and liver functions, the neuromuscular and digestive systems, and medical applications of genetics and gene therapy.  The next day, the students traveled to Seattle to visit the Allen Institute and  tour the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine.

Nisa Penland, a UW graduate student in bioengineering, offered a workshop on gene editing.

“It was very rewarding to give back when these students are so primed to become scientists or medical doctors,” said Penland. “I think there were certain light bulbs that went off when they connected ideas with each other that they’ve been reading about in their textbooks. Just teaching them for two days made me learn more about the work I do in my own lab.”

For the Chehalis School District, involving UW scientists in the summer STEM camp was a way to enhance a program that has grown over the past five years.

“This partnership with the University of Washington has been an amazing experience for kids from the whole region,” said Lynn Panther, a teacher on special assignment for the Chehalis School District. “My hope is that learning from UW researchers and scientists will spark an interest in science, open their minds to opportunities they wouldn’t have known about, and show them that they can do these jobs, too.”

The students came to the STEM camp with inquisitive minds and personal goals.  One  mentioned a desire to become neurosurgeon to  help people with brain disabilities.  Another spoke about wanting to train in child psychiatry. Others shared their plans to explore anesthesiology, veterinary medicine, and forensics.

The UW scientists gave the camp participants a view of the many fields and training options available for them to consider.

“I’m really interested in STEM fields and medicine so I wanted to learn more about the kinds of research that is going on with regenerative medicine,” said one 10th grade student. “That novel side to medicine is really appealing to me. Programs like this open my eyes to new opportunities I could go into.”