By the end of the retreat, the domino-costumed members of the lab of Gage Crump, PhD, were completely floored.

By the end of the retreat, the domino-costumed members of the lab of Gage Crump, PhD, were completely floored.

It was no tricks and all treats on Halloween at the seventh retreat for the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC, held at the university’s Davidson Conference Center.

Center Director Andy McMahon, PhD, FRS, welcomed nearly 100 researchers to the annual event and encouraged them to mingle and get to “know at least two other people that you didn’t know by the end of the day.”

One already familiar face to everyone in the room was that of keynote speaker Scott Fraser, PhD, provost professor of biological sciences and biomedical engineering and the director of science initiatives at USC.

He began his talk with a mention of one image that he couldn’t get out of his mind — thanks to the black-and-white domino costumes worn by the spirited members of Gage Crump’s lab.

“Boy, it’s distracting having the dominoes in the audience,” he said. “I keep thinking about lining you up and then knocking the first one down.”

He then shared the latest advances in imaging, including a technique called Phase-variance OCT that enables doctors to quickly and painlessly detect leaky or fragile blood vessels in the eye. Doctors can then repair these vessels — common in the elderly and in people with diabetes — before the formation of damaging or blinding blood clots.

During another presentation at the retreat, principal investigator Michael Bonaguidi, PhD, the newest recruit to the Department of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, spoke about the properties of neural stem cells in the normal and injured adult brain.

For the majority of the day, the spotlight was on the USC stem cell research center’s talented PhD students, postdoctoral scholars, research associates and visiting scholars. They discussed their research around the themes of disease and regeneration, cell signaling as it relates to various aspects of embryonic organ development, technology, and genetics and epigenetics — how genes are either turned on or off.

Postdoctoral research associate Lori O’Brien from the McMahon lab then received a pleasant surprise when it was announced that she had been selected as the first of a series of Broad Fellows, denoting exceptional senior postdoctoral researchers at the transition point to starting their own stem cell laboratories.

The day ended with a cocktail hour and poster session, giving researchers a chance to compliment each other on their clever research — as well as their clever costumes.

— Cristy Lytal