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Los Al senior makes scientific discoveries at Cedar Sinai

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Los Al senior makes scientific discoveries at Cedar Sinai

Rachel Baldauf, Editor-in-Chief

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For many high school students, summertime is a time for laziness, sleep, and relaxation. For Candler Cusato, however, this is not the case. The Los Al senior recently spent her summer at the renowned Cedar Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills researching the medical possibilities of stem cells.

According to Cusato, the internship opened her eyes to the field of stem cell research. “It wasn’t something I had much experience with before this internship. I just knew that I had a desire to pursue science,” she explains. “I found this program, and my interest in it kind of developed from there as I was a part of it.” After a lengthy application process including filling out a fifteen page form, compiling teacher recommendations, and writing an essay, Cusato was one of eight students chosen for the program.

Although her interest in stem cells was a new discovery, Cusato says that her passion for helping others through scientific research began at a young age. “In seventh grade, I did a humanitarian mission in Panama where I worked with an organization that gave eye surgery to underprivileged kids,” she explains. This experience prompted Cusato to choose degenerative eye diseases as the focus for her research throughout her internship.

Cusato describes her days throughout the internship as oftentimes very long and arduous. “I got up at 5:15 every morning and spent maybe an hour and fifteen minutes in traffic.”After arriving at work, Cusato worked nearly six hour days. “We would either be doing research or taking photos of slides we’d stained or just kind of things like that,” she says of her work. After work, Cusato describes driving another hour to hour and a half in traffic on her way home.

Despite the immense amount of work, Cusato says that the friendships she made throughout the experience made it all worth it. “The relationships that I made with all of my peers are something that I’ll really cherish because we all got along so well despite coming from schools all over Los Angeles County and many of us having different backgrounds, whether they came from private schools or public schools or anything like that,” Cusato explains. “The fact that we were all able to get along really well was really unique.”

In the end, all participants from throughout the state attended a conference where Cusato was chosen to give a podium presentation about her research. “We presented our research, and then from each institution, an individual was selected to give a podium presentation for their specific location,” says Cusato. “I gave that presentation on behalf of all of the interns there, and they ended that with a nice little awards ceremony where I eventually won best podium presenter.”

Ultimately Cusato says that her experience has driven her to view science in a new light. “You don’t really think about all of the work that goes behind it; you think of the effect of all that research. I saw firsthand how long and arduous the process is,” Cusato explains. “It was a big takeaway that everything requires a lot of determination and a lot of strength and a lot of courage to say that maybe you were wrong about something and then go back and redo it. That was something that was probably the biggest takeaway for me.”

As for her plans for the future, Cusato dreams of combining her scientific talent with her passion for public policy. “This has definitely reinforced in me that I would like to go do my undergraduate studies and pursue probably biology with specifically a focus in global health, and then from there, I would really like to go to medical school and become a physician and participate in organizations like Doctors without Borders or do some work with the World Health Organization in order to kind of restructure health care throughout the world,” she explains.

Despite her accomplishments and incredibly bright future, however, Cusato remains humble. Without the support of her mother, she claims that she would have never been able to get to where she is today. “I really appreciate her because she gave up her whole summer to drive me there because she wanted me to be safe,” says Cusato. “She could be a tour guide of Beverly Hills now with how much she learned,” she laughs. “It was definitely a learning experience for all of us, and I appreciate her doing that for me.”

Rachel Baldauf, Editor in Chief

I am a junior at Los Alamitos High School and am the editor-in-chief of The Griffin Chronicle. When I'm not writing for the Chronicle, you can find my...

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