Mesenchymal stem cells.
Cooper Thome is working with mesenchymal stem cells.
What the heck are mesenchymal stem cells?
In regular folks terms, they’re stem cells that can grow into a variety of different cells, from bone to cartilage, from muscle to fat.
“They have many therapeutic applications, from the treatment of orthopedic injuries to autoimmune diseases,” Thome says. “Knowing how various environments and factors affect stem cells is very important if we wish to make further advancements in the types and viability of stem-cell treatments.
Thome is a UTC Honors College student who’s in Japan this summer, working an internship in nanotechnology at the National Institute of Materials Science in the city of Tsukuba. A chemical engineering major in the College of Engineering and Computer Science, he has three semesters left before graduation.
Landing the Japanese internship is a major accomplishment, and Thome is one of only six students from across the U.S., from Florida to California, who were chosen. He’ll be in Japan until early August.
After he’s finished with the internship in Japan, he’ll fly into Atlanta to attend “a research convocation for the various National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure REU participants from universities in the U.S,” he says.
Translation: A national conference on real-world applications for nanotechnology. REU stands for Research Experiences for Undergraduates, so it’s geared to college students.
“In addition to the terrific research he’s been pursuing in that field — including an important internship last summer at Georgia Tech’s Institute for Electronics and Nanotechnology and now this International REU in Japan — he’s been an active and valued member of the Brock Scholars community in the Honors College, helping to mentor new students during our orientation retreats, leading nature hikes, and more,” says Dr. Gregory O’Dea, associate dean of the Honors College.
Back in Japan, Cooper takes tiny, tiny stem cells — usually about one millionth of a meter in size — and grows them for tissue engineering.
“The fabrication and characterization of the patterns is an important part of the project. It has been shown that the actual patterns in which you grow the cells can influence their behavior greatly, so I am going to explore some of the implications of that.”
What he learned at UTC has been critical to his success outside of the school, he says, including both the Japan internship and the one at Georgia Tech.
“I’m really thankful for the Honors College, as well as the faculty and staff of the CECS for all the help they’ve given to me up to this point,” he says. “I’ve been lucky enough to be around people and in an environment that has pushed me to pursue some really cool (and educational and professional) experiences and positions.”
As for the difference between the societies in the U.S. and Japan, Thome understates that “it’s quite different and, especially since I don’t speak Japanese, it can be confusing at times.”
“In general, everyone here is extremely kind and helpful, though. There’s definitely a type of social structure and formality that isn’t really prevalent in the United States.
“I’ve met a lot of people from all over the world here, too. Tsukuba is a science city with a high population of foreign researchers, and it’s really interesting to talk to people about various cultural differences.”