An NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center
By City of Hope | February 29, 2012

Highlights on CIRM Bridges to Stem Cell Research Trainees: Michael Silva, Megan Gilchrist and Kenna Schnarr

Michael Silva Master of Science Candidate California State University, Channel Islands


For me, hope has become a way of life. I grew up in a community where childhood dreams and innocence are often derailed by the hardships associated with drug abuse, violence, lack of employment opportunities and a lack of access to quality education and health care. For me, I never knew what I wanted to be in life, I just knew what I did not want to be.

I would not be immune to these hardships. As a teenager, my father died after being misdiagnosed with asthma when he was actually having a heart attack. Soon after, the factory where my mother worked closed its doors just before she found herself urging her doctor to remove a lump that turned out to be third degree breast cancer. On top of that, I was constantly stereotyped and classified as a gang member despite being an honor student. I was frustrated with life, but I still never lost hope.

Fortunately, I was able to prepare myself to take advantage of opportunities as they were presented to me and surround myself by great minds at a highly reputable comprehensive cancer institute. To me, City of Hope is much more than a place to gain experience to complete my master’s degree and find employment. To me, it is a special place that is dedicated to treating and curing cancer.It is a city of people dedicated to giving those who may only have hope an opportunity to thrive. And that is something I can definitely relate to. So when Karen Aboody, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Neurosciences and Division of Neurosurgery, offered me a position as a CIRM Bridges to Stem Cell Research Intern, it was a no-brainer to continue my aspirations and ultimately become a physician who serves underrepresented communities, collaborates with researchers to bring innovative and effective treatment options to those who also want a fighting chance against illnesses, and continues to reach out to at-risk and troubled youth.

The flame that has always flickered inside is burning stronger than ever before. And, I am eternally grateful for all of those who support and provide opportunities, in whichever form they may exist, to those who hope for a better world.

Megan Gilchrist Biotechnology Certificate Program California State University, Long Beach

As a student at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), I was awarded an internship from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to pursue stem cell research. The Biotechnology Certificate Program at CSULB provided me an excellent foundation of knowledge and skills necessary for innovative research. I chose City of Hope and, specifically, the laboratory of Karen Aboody, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Neurosciences and Division of Neurosurgery at City of Hope, because it offered me the opportunity to be a part of a translational research lab and a patient-centered campus. It was very important for me to find a lab with goals similar to mine: My motivation in science stems from my basic desire to impact the health of patients directly. This is also my motivation to become a physician.

In Dr. Aboody’s lab, efforts focus on the development of innovative, targeted-treatments of cancer from bench to bedside. This is precisely the type of research I find most engaging. Currently I am working on two different projects. In the first project, I am investigating whether the therapy from our phase I clinical trial (ID # NCT01172964) can be used for the treatment of breast cancer metastases in the brain. In the second project, I am examining the tumor microenvironment and the potential signals mediating the tumor-tropic property of neural stem cells.

The CSULB Biotechnology Program and internship at City of Hope have proven invaluable for my scientific research endeavors and future medical aspirations. This experience has been truly worthwhile and will forever impact my professional path towards becoming a physician.

Kenna Schnarr Master of Science in Biological Sciences Candidate California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

While pursuing a Master of Science degree in biological sciences, I was awarded a one-year grant from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to conduct a thesis project in stem cell research at either Scripps Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology, City of Hope or the University of Southern California. I chose City of Hope because it offered numerous opportunities to engage in translational medical research, a continuing commitment to compassionate patient care, initiatives in patient and community education, dedication to producing leading scientists, and innovative cancer research and treatment.

The research laboratory of Karen Aboody, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Neurosciences and Division of Neurosurgery, intrigued me most. In 2000, Dr. Aboody and her colleagues discovered that neural stem cells have a tumor tropism to metastatic and invasive cancers. With this knowledge, she developed a novel regimen for targeted delivery of therapeutic agents to these tumor foci. She currently is using her neural stem cell-based therapy in a phase I clinical trial to target recurrent high-grade glioma, the most aggressive type of brain tumor. As for my role in the lab, under Dr. Aboody’s mentorship, I have established a thesis project that involves using neural stem cells and gold nanoparticle technology for selective targeting of metastatic and invasive breast cancer.

Using my master’s program as a stepping stone, I have accomplished a number of personal and professional goals while continuing to work towards my most fervently sought goal — medical school. And I am ecstatic to begin this journey next August!

Overall, in gaining translational research experience here at City of Hope, I have acquired a wealth of knowledge regarding stem cell and cancer biology, learned various laboratory techniques and skills and met leading researchers and physicians in the field, all of which has furthered my ambitions to attend medical school and someday treat human ailments as a physician.