Summer camp for future immunologists involves serious research

Diane Tseng

High school student Angie Jaimez carefully extracts DNA in the lab of David Lewis.

Angie Jaimez did not have the usual summer vacation. While her friends were tanning at the beach, she was extracting protein from DNA samples.

On Aug. 11, Jaimez, an incoming senior at Eastside College Preparatory in East Palo Alto, was one of 21 teenagers displaying the results of their summer labors in a poster session at the medical school. The two-hour event, attended by more than 200 Stanford faculty, parents and members of the public, was the culmination of eight weeks of research in the ultimate camp for budding bioscientists: the Center for Clinical Immunology at Stanford Summer Research Program.

The internship program, which ran from June 15 through Aug. 12, was started in 2000 by Garry Fathman, MD, professor of medicine and director of CCIS, and Alan Krensky, MD, professor of pediatrics. The two scientists were well aware that more than half of immunologists are over the age of 50 and that there's a need to develop more young talent. Their solution was to develop a program in which promising students would get to work directly with some of the world's premier immunologists.

And this summer's effort revealed how the idea has taken root, enabling yet another class of top Bay Area high school juniors and seniors to be exposed to medical research.

"The students who are accepted into the program are the cream of the crop," said Diane Tseng, a teaching assistant for the program and a former intern herself, who has watched the program more than double its applicant size since it began. "In the questions they ask, the students reflect the perceptiveness and curiosity of blossoming scientists."

The students are expected to attend 16 lectures, specially crafted for the program and modeled on the same immunology course taken by Stanford medical students. These talks on basic immunology, scientific method and career opportunities are accompanied by laboratory training and work with professors and postdoctoral fellows who are assigned to be mentors to the students in the program.

"I dove right into my lab work from the first day," said Jaimez, who was studying solid organ transplants in the lab of David Lewis, MD, associate professor of pediatrics. In past summers, she had studied psychology and neurology at Berkeley, as well as acupuncture and herbal medicine in China. But the experience at Stanford was unique. "I was treated as an equal and as a grown-up," she said. "The people I was working with made me feel like this was my job and that I was a researcher working alongside them."

Jaimez's work involved comparing immune responses in patients who had undergone heart and lung transplants, evaluating the role of specific antigens. At the poster session, her findings—presented with a thorough write-up and a large diorama—was juxtaposed with the reports of her 20 peers. Stephanie Yaung, a Leland High School student from San Jose, displayed a poster on her stem cell research in the lab of Irving Weissman, MD, director of the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine. And nearby Julie Boiko, a San Jose home-schooled junior, showed off the results of her immunology work with David Miklos, MD, assistant professor of bone marrow transplantation. While she had done a previous project at a local community college—it involved doing dilution experiments with oatmeal—this Stanford work was "much cooler."

"The poster session gives the students a great experience of what it would be like to be at a professional conference," said Tseng. "The students learn to speak to two different audiences, the professors as well as the parents and community members."

The poster session ended with a presentation of diplomas and awards to the students and a few words from P.J. Utz, MD, associate professor of medicine and director of the program, and Larry Steinman, MD, professor of neurology, who glowingly referred to the students as the "next 'Lance Armstrongs' in science."

The program is funded by the National Institutes of Health, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Arthritis Foundation Northern California Chapter and individual donors. In coming years, the program's supporters hope that its 300-page syllabus will be sent to other schools for similar programs. In his remarks at the poster session, Utz said that some new programs could be established as early as next summer.

Jaimez said that she appreciated the opportunity to learn from top-notch researchers, but she was already looking to what she would be doing next. She had just been awarded the first-ever Woman in Science Scholarship from the California Academy of Science, and she plans to continue her study of immunology. Her dream is to become a surgeon.

Jaimez said that she was ready to get back to the lab. But she may have to wait a bit before tackling another intensive eight-week research binge. After several summers of intensive programs, her family insists that when next June rolls around, a long vacation is in store.