Working With The World’s Sharpest Minds

Thrasher-Broidy Fellowship at L.A.’s Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
By Maura King Scully

Tas Haught ’15 and Will Schreiber-Stainthorp ’15
Photo by John Marinelli

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles is home to the Regenerative Medicine Institute (RMI), which is on the cutting edge of human neural stem cell research that has the potential to treat debilitating neurological disorders such as ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Bringing together some of the world’s sharpest scientific minds, Cedars draws an international cadre of researchers who are specialists in medicine, molecular biology, computational neuroscience, and biomedical materials, to name a few.

This was most impressive company for Tasmerisk “Tas” Haught ’15 and Will Schreiber-Stainthorp ’15 to keep this summer, thanks to a one-of-a-kind fellowship established by Elizabeth Thrasher-Broidy ’80 and her husband, Marc Broidy.

“The Regenerative Medicine Institute at Cedars fills its labs with outstanding graduate and postgraduate students from some of the most outstanding universities in the world. These Trinity fellowship recipients were the first undergraduates ever to participate in the RMI,” says Thrasher-Broidy, a member of Trinity’s Women’s Leadership Council and a former member of the Board of Fellows.

“As the liberal arts education increasingly becomes more competitive,” she continues, “I thought this would be an excellent way for Trinity to distinguish itself as a liberal arts college of excellence, with an outstanding neuroscience program for undergraduates who are given the opportunity of this fellowship, which is unparalleled at other similar institutions.”

The Broidy family has long-standing connections to Cedars-Sinai: Marc is on the medical center’s Board of Governors; his father, Steven D. Broidy, is a past board chairman and life trustee; and his grandfather, Samuel “Steve” Broidy, was the founding life chairman of Cedars-Sinai.

Through the Cedars/Trinity Thrasher-Broidy Fellowship, Haught and Schreiber-Stainthorp spent 10 weeks working under the direction of research scientists on projects at the forefront of stem cell therapy. They followed the first Thrasher-Broidy fellow, Brian Castelluccio ’12, who completed his fellowship in summer 2011. “The RMI at Cedars-Sinai is on the absolute cutting edge of neuroscience research,” explains William “Bill” Church, Trinity College associate professor of chemistry and neuroscience, who has been an ardent supporter of the Thrasher-Broidy fellowship on campus and within the Neuroscience Department at Trinity. “Dr. Clive Svendsen, director of the RMI, is an internationally known leader in the field of cloning and stem cell research. His lab focuses on the application of human neural stem cells to treat disorders such as Parkinson’s and ALS.”

Tas Haught '15, Colin MacKichan '15, Elizabeth Thrasher-Broidy '80, and Will Schreiber-Stainthorp '15 in Los Angeles
Tas Haught ’15, Colin MacKichan ’15, Elizabeth Thrasher-Broidy ’80, and Will Schreiber-Stainthorp ’15 in Los Angeles

Haught, a QuestBridge Scholar, actually worked in Svendsen’s lab, studying stem cell transplants by taking advantage of the underdeveloped immune systems in neonates. Schreiber-Stainthorp, a Posse Scholar, worked with Joshua Breunig, Ph.D., director of the RMI Confocal Microscopy Core, on a technology for cell-replacement therapies in diseases affecting premature infants. The two were joined during the month of July by fellow neuroscience major Colin MacKichan ’15, who, thanks to Thrasher-Broidy and Broidy, shadowed Cedars-Sinai pediatric neurosurgeon Moise Danielpour, M.D., known for his pioneering work on in-utero brain surgery.


The students raved about their summer experiences. “I really enjoyed it–I learned a lot about different lab techniques, working with tissue cultures and stem cell lines,” says Haught. “I loved the collaboration in my lab. Every Wednesday, there was a meeting where 20 or so researchers would talk about their particular research and problems they encountered. Everyone would give input on how to make things work. It let me see what scientific collaboration looked like and learn from brilliant, brilliant people.”

Haught says she appreciated “all of the knowledge and humor that Dr. Clive Svendsen imparted on me. I am extremely thankful to have seen how he ran his lab and truly embraced collaboration throughout every department within the Regenerative Medicine Institute.”

Elizabeth Thrasher-Broidy ’80, Joshua Breunig, Ph.D., Will Schreiber-Stainthorp ’15, Clive Svendsen Ph.D., Tas Haught ’15, and Moises Danielpour, M.D.
Elizabeth Thrasher-Broidy ’80, Joshua Breunig, Ph.D., Will Schreiber-Stainthorp ’15, Clive Svendsen Ph.D., Tas Haught ’15, and Moises Danielpour, M.D.

Adds Schreiber-Stainthorp: “I learned a ton of immediately applicable skills: how to create the DNA you want, how to introduce it into organisms and analyze its effects.” He also enjoyed the experience more than he expected. “I would start work at 9:00 a.m. and wouldn’t feel like leaving all day. That’s the first time I had felt that way about a job, which I guess is the best measure of whether you’re doing the right thing. This fellowship opened to me the possibility of having a career in research. Prior to this, I was set on going to medical school and becoming a doctor.”

He recognizes the invaluable role Breunig played in making his summer a success. “Dr. Breunig was incredibly generous with his time and resources, which is especially remarkable given the importance and demands of his work,” he says. “His mentorship consisted of everything from advice about lab techniques, to discussions on theoretical components of his research, to broader conversations about the decision to pursue research as a career.”

The summer also spurred Haught to think about new directions. “It was interesting to see surgeons and scientists each following their own tracks. I’ve been thinking about a combined M.D./Ph.D. and talked to people at the lab who had attempted that but then had decided they really wanted one path or the other. It’s nice to get a sense of what it’s really like in the field and see research in a broader context. I learned it’s okay to not know what I want yet.”

Although MacKichan’s stint at Cedars-Sinai was much shorter, he found it to be equally illuminating. “I spent three weeks with Dr. Danielpour in his office, where he saw patients. During the fourth week, I had the opportunity to observe surgery,” notes MacKichan, a Kurz Scholar and a Daniel Burhans, Hon. 1831 Scholar. “It’s mind-blowing how precise it is. Three of the surgeries were reconstructing infants’ skulls,” a procedure necessary when the plates of the skull fuse together before the brain has stopped growing.

MacKichan says he took two things from the experience: first, that although he’s still interested in medical school, he doesn’t want to be a neurosurgeon but will consider another specialty. “I also learned that medicine is so much more than helping and healing people,” he continues. “I saw how mentally tough you have to be to do this day after day. It’s not a glamorous profession. I walked away so thankful for the experience and for the Trinity connections that made it possible.”

The Broidy Family Patient Wing at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles

He also remains thankful for the guidance he received. “I was humbled and blessed to have had the opportunity to shadow Dr. Danielpour,” MacKichan says. “His wisdom and insight into my life will continue to direct my decisions as I pursue a career in medicine.”

For their part, Cedars-Sinai researchers gained favorable impressions of Trinity College. “Tas’s enthusiasm and quest for knowledge was invigorating and downright contagious,” scays Virginia Mattis, Ph.D., a researcher in the Svendsen lab. “I was pleasantly surprised with the consistent quality of her knowledge, skills, and independence. Tas worked more at the Ph.D.-candidate level than an undergrad level.”

Breunig had positive things to say about Schreiber-Stainthorp. “Will integrated himself into the lab seamlessly from the start. He was energized, inquisitive, and extremely capable. He was able to successfully navigate several challenging projects with my oversight and the guidance of my graduate student.” Thanks to “Will and Tas, Elizabeth and Marc, and the other members of the Trinity community with whom I interacted, I came away with a fine impression of Trinity as a tight-knit community devoted to scholarship and exhibiting the best elements of a well-rounded liberal arts education.”


Colin MacKichan ’15 with William “Bill” Church, Trinity College associate professor of chemistry and neuroscience Photo by John Marinelli
Colin MacKichan ’15 with William “Bill” Church, Trinity College associate professor of chemistry and neuroscience
Photo by John Marinelli

Church hopes this experience will have a positive ripple effect on the sciences in general and on neuroscience in particular back on campus. “Trinity science students are treated to something unique: a small liberal arts college that supports the sciences in a big way,” says Church. “The College itself understands and appreciates these research opportunities as fundamental to students’ education, not icing on the cake.”

According to Church, Haught and Schreiber-Stainthorp have already been busy visiting neuroscience classes, describing their work at Cedars-Sinai and encouraging fellow majors to apply for a fellowship for the summer of 2015. Interested students will then submit an application to Church and complete an interview during the early part of spring semester.

It’s easy for Haught and Schreiber-Stainthorp to talk up the fellowship. “Here, science students have incredible opportunities–like this amazing fellowship that’s unique to Trinity,” says Schreiber-Stainthorp.

Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney, a neuroscientist by training, said she is pleased that Trinity, in conjunction with Thrasher-Broidy and Broidy, is able to offer the fellowship. “This represents an enormous opportunity for our neuroscience students, a chance for them to work with world-renowned researchers who are at the forefront of their field,” she said. “We appreciate all that Elizabeth, Marc, and the people at Cedars-Sinai have done to make this program possible.”

Marc Broidy and Elizabeth Thrasher-Broidy ’80

Church says the fellowship came about because Thrasher-Broidy saw an opportunity to make connections between Trinity and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “In the process,” he said, “she is having a huge impact on students in terms of their career development. I think this is a model for further alumni interaction, and it’s a really creative way for alumni to make their mark.”