Aspiring biochemist, Cindy Nguyen is on a mission to discover new ways to treat diseases using stem cell therapies.
The 19-year-old graduating student has conducted research designed to help advance the development of stem cell therapies, such as pancreatic stem cell therapies, for potential treatment of type 1 diabetes.
“Right now, stem cell therapies are a very popular field of research, but one problem with the storage of stem cells is that at very cold temperatures the cells may be harmed because of ice growth,” says Nguyen, a Montclair resident. “With my project, I’m trying to protect mesenchymal stem cells by adding a protein whose function is to prevent ice growth, which is why it’s called an antifreeze protein.”
This month, Nguyen will graduate from Cal State LA with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry with a biology minor and summa cum laude honors. She will be a student speaker during the Commencement ceremony for the College of Natural and Social Sciences on May 24.
At the age of 15, Nguyen was admitted to Cal State LA through the Early Entrance Program. The program, which has accepted highly gifted students as young as 11 years old, is administered by the university’s Honors College.
Both her parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam and they worked “labor-intensive jobs throughout my entire childhood to put food on the table,” Nguyen says. As the first in her family to attend college, she had to learn how to navigate higher education mostly on her own.
Over the years, Nguyen earned multiple scholarships, including the Anthony Fratiello Endowed Scholarship, William James Dermody Scholarship, the Coca-Cola First Generation Scholarship, Edison International Scholars Scholarship, and many others.
Nguyen discovered her passion for biochemistry in a research group under the guidance of Professor Xin Wen.
“I knew that there were many, many applications for chemistry, but it was another thing seeing and talking to people doing research to expand the field,” she says.
As part of Wen’s research lab, Nguyen was also provided an internship opportunity at the City of Hope to work collaboratively on a project involving the use of antifreeze systems to cryopreserve stem cells to treat various diseases. Cryopreservation is described as the use of very low temperatures to preserve structurally intact living cells and tissues. The experience inspired Nguyen’s interest in medical research.
“City of Hope is unique because it is a research institute, treatment center and education center all in one,” she explains. “Their research focuses on cancer, diabetes and other chronic, life-threatening diseases, which seemed exactly up my alley as someone who wants a career in research in the medical field.”
Nguyen presented her research findings at the California State University’s Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology conference. She is also a coauthor of two research papers that have been published in professional journals.
“Cindy is a passionate and curious learner, a gifted researcher and a natural leader,” says Wen. “She welcomes challenging tasks and handles them with ease. Cindy has excelled in all aspects during her academic years at Cal State LA. I have been fortunate to witness her growth during the past three years, and I am confident that she will continue excelling.”
Nguyen recently received the Edison STEM-Net Research Fellowship, which provides a stipend and allows her to work with Wen to investigate a new method to purify antifreeze proteins for potential applications in pharmaceutical, food and materials industries.
While at Cal State LA, Nguyen also served as a peer health educator as part of the Student Health Advisory Committee under the auspices of the Student Health Center. She also later served as committee chair for the Mental Health Committee.
“Through this experience, I learned how to advocate and empower my peers through educating them on topics relating to health and well-being,” she says. Nguyen has volunteered at a local youth center and a hospital. She organized general and organic chemistry tutoring sessions as part of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Club. As an ambassador for the Honors College, she helped recruit prospective students from local high schools and community colleges.
This summer, Nguyen will participate in NASA’s Gene Lab for University Summer Bioinformatics Bootcamp at Cal State LA. Working with Professor Wen, she will also continue to further her research and obtain more clinical experience through her internship.
“In the long term, I hope that I can use my education and experiences to give back to the community, particularly by empowering and advocating for them,” says Nguyen, who plans to apply to an M.D./Ph.D. program in the future.
# # #
California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 26,000 students and has more than 250,000 distinguished alumni.
Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit www.CalStateLA.edu.