Even though Richard Lopez is still in high school, he can already tell you a thing or two about the ureteric bud, the metanephric mesenchyme and the developing kidney. More impressively, he was familiar with these terms before starting his summer internship in the lab of Andy McMahon, PhD, kidney researcher, W.M. Keck Provost Professor of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine and Biological Sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC.

“I knew I was going to come here,” he said. “So from December on, I was just reading papers that were written by Dr. McMahon’s lab. And so I read about the development of the kidney, kidney organoids, experimental methods like in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry, all that stuff.”

Lopez undertook this intense preparation as part of the Science Research Program at his boarding school, Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut.

Lopez didn’t start his high school career at Choate. Growing up in Lennox, a neighborhood near the Los Angeles International Airport, he attended the local public schools until his sophomore year in high school. At that point, his exceptional scores on the California Standardized Test (CST) attracted the attention of the Young Eisner Scholar program, which empowers underserved students to fulfill their potential. As a Young Eisner Scholar, he earned both admission and a full scholarship to Choate.

In the McMahon Lab, Lopez has learned about the molecular signals that drive the branching development of the kidney and practiced a wide range of laboratory techniques.

“Creating kidney organoids, learning about kidney development, these kinds of things can solve really burdensome illnesses that are fatal to some people, like end-stage renal disease and polycystic kidney disease,” he said.

To get to the lab every day, Lopez rides his bicycle for the 32-mile round trip from his home in Lennox to USC’s Health Sciences Campus. He’s run the Los Angeles Marathon once and the San Francisco Marathon twice. In November, he’s planning to celebrate his 18th birthday with his first Ironman Triathlon.

He’s participating in these events not only for fun and fitness, but also as a way to give back. He’s currently raising sponsorship money for the Partnership Scholars Program, which provides underserved junior high and high school students with educational and cultural experiences, ranging from theatergoing to restaurant outings to college tours. His goal is to raise $54,000 to fund three new scholars.

“I was very lucky,” he said. “So I want to raise money for the scholarships that have helped me out along the way.”

— Cristy Lytal