Week 8: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

August 18th, 2012

Maria Davis ’13, Dimensions Fellow in Research- Inflammation and Wound Healing

Wow! The past 8 weeks have flown by and I feel very fortunate to have this experience. My mentors have challenged me and I have definitely felt like this internship has encouraged me to grow both academically and professionally!

This week was another very busy week as I tried to tie together the loose ends on some projects before I left. I helped with a last minute things for some other projects, since most lab member were still gone on vacation, but I also pulled together a lot of my own data and my final lab presentation for the Sutterwala lab at Oakdale. While every last detail wasn’t completed for my project, it was nice to be able to put some of the work I had done in better context of the entire project. Scientific research is definitely time consuming and while 8 weeks is a significant amount of time and a lot can be accomplished during this time, it is also not enough time to always finish everything.

My most eventful project this week was beginning to serial section the wounds I had embedded earlier in the summer. I was finally able to take the opportunity to use the special instrument I needed and I successfully completed two blocks. It was a project that takes lots and lots of practice and the process only gets easier over time. My first block was definitely not the best but the second went a lot better. I wish I had more time to keep section because I know that I would only improve as I got more experience!

Fun fact of the week: I had my final lab presentation on Tuesday! It was bit nervous at first because all of my data has been collect but not completely analyzed. Therefore, I was a little bit hesitant when I knew I had to present but I learned to understand that sometimes we don’t have all the information we need but have to present what we have. Everyone in the lab was very welcoming and kind and I definitely feel like it gave me some great experience in communication and conveying ideals and data to others.

Week 7: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

August 7th, 2012

Maria Davis ’13, Dimensions Fellow in Research- Inflammation and Wound Healing

Analyze, Analyze, Analyze. This was my primary goal and task for the week. I am analyzing a lot of the data I have collected so far. I am primarily analyzing the wounds and the closure of the wounds that we have been studying. We’re trying to figure out if the wild-type animals or the knockout animals have faster healing wounds. While we get the best idea from serial section the wounds, we haven’t had the chance to do that yet (because the instrument we use is in high demand in our lab). Therefore, right now I am looking at pictures I took daily and tracing to find what percent of closure was occurring day to day. This is a detailed process and is definitely more difficult than it looks. While at first I thought it was a an easy task, the undertaking eventually required more attention to details and trying to figure out what was wound and what was healing skin etc. While it’s not perfect yet I believe I’m making some headway.

It’s been an interesting week as most of the lab members are on vacation. With only two of us around it is pretty quiet and less busy around the lab. Luckily, I was able to go to the Oakdale twice this week and do some other experiments. It was great to spend more time with my mentor Sophie and the other lab members. They have been very helpful as I preformed my second ELISA (Enzyme-Linked ImmunoSorbant Assay) which is an assay done in order to detect the presence of certain substances. We were looking for specific cytokines and were looking to see if levels were above or below our control samples. The assay isn’t super complicated to perform but it does take quite a bit of time because of the many washes that need to be done as well as the waiting period that exists between steps. It was nice that I was able to carry out the entire test by myself this time. I was definitely more comfortable because it was my second time performing the ELISA and I knew what to do.

I don’t really have a fun fact of the week, but I can tell you that I am trying to enjoy the Olympics when I have the time to watch! Go USA!

Week 6: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

July 31st, 2012

Maria Davis ’13, Dimensions Fellow in Research- Inflammation and Wound Healing

Time seems to just be flying by. Most of my time was spent analyzing data as well as helping out with other people’s projects in the lab. It was Dr. Leah Biggs’s (who I introduced before as my second cousin once removed) last week in the lab so I helped her with a few things as well as help Dr. Dunnwald with a few of her projects. One project we did was explore the embedding process of wounds. As I have mentioned before, the manual embedding process is extremely long. While there is a lot of waiting around the wait is no longer than a half hour, so it is difficult to accomplish a lot of other things during that time. Therefore, we were exploring an automatic processing technique. I worked with another student in the lab (Frank) to analyze the different processes. The majority of Frank’s time is spent sectioning the blocks that are created during the embedding process, so he is the expert student on the outcome of the blocks. As far as we could tell the manual process works slightly better. This experiment also gave us some sample blocks to be practiced on so I will be practicing on these blocks in the next few weeks so I can section my own blocks soon. I wish I had some more exciting news for you but this is about it for this week!

Fun fact of the week: I job shadowed Dr. Jeff Murray, a Pediatrician. While the majority of Dr. Murray’s time is spent in his lab, he has “clinics” a few weeks out of the year. During the time he has “clinic” he invites undergraduates working in his lab to follow him. Even though I don’t technically work in his lab, he was gracious enough to allow me to follow him for a morning. I met him about 8:00 am in the newborn nursery. Dr. Murray is a pediatrician that works with newborn babies and I was able to follow him around as he checked on the babies and assess their health. I loved the experience and it was great being able to explore another field of science that is of interest to me.

Week 5: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

July 26th, 2012

Maria Davis ’13, Dimensions Fellow in Research- Inflammation and Wound Healing

I have two fun facts of the week and I thought it was appropriate to start with one of them because it connects to week 4 blog.

Fun fact of the week: I had a surprise visit from Kirtley Hitt on Monday! Kirtley is a friend of mine who just graduated in May from Cornell and also happens to be an alumni of the Fellows program! Last week I closed my blog with… “I am amazed at how you never know whom you may run into walking around the research campus” and this held true again this week. I was working at my desk when Martine walked in with Kirtely. I turns out that Kirley was just hired as a research assistant in a lab that Martine does some collaborative work with sometimes. (I’ve actually been to the lab a number of times this week as we share some equipment as well.) I had no idea that Kirtley had just gotten this new job so it was a great surprise to start my week as we got to chat a little bit before getting back to work.

This week included a lot of embedding, organizing and little projects. There were a lot of wounds to be embedded this week so I spent a fair amount of time with a timer in my hand waiting for the next step in the process. While the embedding process can be long and you never feel like you get anything done, it’s rewarding to watch the project come to completion.

This week we also experimented with different condition mediums to grow keratinoctyes. Although this was just a little side project it was interesting to help with it. We were experimenting with different recipes to see if the one we usually use is just as good as another one that is thought to be a good one as well. This project really made me realize how much trial and error is involved with research. It takes a long time to perfect a project and there are so many steps involved before the final product is often achieved. If you don’t have patience, I wouldn’t recommend this field of work for you.

This week I’ve also began analyzing some data I have been collect and this will consume most of my time in my last few weeks. Most of my “hard core” science work is done and now it’s time to sit back and analyze the information we have collected so far.

Fun fact of the week: Our lab had a party at Kent Park, outside Tiffin, after work one night. Since Dr. Leah Biggs (mentioned in my first post) is done working in our lab next week, our lab had a little party to celebrate. Family and friends of some of the lab members came and we had delicious Iowa sweet corn as well as other a great dishes and desserts. Our main course was BLTs and I learned a new way to eat it…with peanut butter and a fried egg. I must say it wasn’t too shabby and I may try it again. The best part was getting to know the other lab members better as we played games and relaxed in the Iowa heat.

Bocce ball Here is most of the lab (as well as a few friends and family members) posing for a picture.

Week 4: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

July 17th, 2012

Maria Davis ’13, Dimensions Fellow in Research- Inflammation and Wound Healing

It amazes me that my internship is already half way over. It seems like the weeks are going faster and faster. This week, I finally had a few days to take some deep breaths and catch up on organizing all of my research so far, but the beginning of the week was definitely busy. The first week of my blog I mentioned that I was beginning to experience the lifestyle of a researcher, and this week I experienced the aspect of the lifestyle that often includes long, and sometimes very late, hours and necessary task of cleaning “dishes”.

On Monday and Tuesday I worked a majority of the time with my keratinocytes and fibroblasts.  We did an experiment called scratch-wound assays, which is a test used to simulate a wound in order to watch and measure the migration of the cells that would be involved in wounds. We were especially interested in fibroblasts as they are cells mostly responsible for the contract of the skin. The assay itself is extremely easy, literally dragging a pipette tip across our confluent cells. The difficult part of the assay is timing everything correctly since you take pictures about every two hours up to 12 hours. This is the part when I experienced the long and late involved in research. Fortunately, I didn’t have to stay in the lab for all 12 hours but I did have to return to the lab to take the pictures. The experience wasn’t too bad at all and after the first day I got the hang of how to take the pictures easier and cut down on the time it took me.

This week was my dishes week and I felt like it was definitely time to pay my dues. Each lab assistant has a week in which they do the “chores” such as dishes, fill the boxes with pipette tips, autoclave different things etc. I was amazed at the amount of glass wear that we went through some days that I had previously not really noticed.  I was super glad that my “chore” week fell when I had a little down time and I wasn’t running from one part of my project to another all the time. While I usually don’t like chores, I didn’t mind my tasks this week as it made me appreciate the work that the other lab assistants do when it is their week.

I know I said it before, but I can’t believe that my experience is about half over! While I still have a lot of analyzing to do with the data I have been collecting I feel like I have already learned so much. I’m excited to see what is to come in the next 4 weeks.

Fun fact of the week: I got to eat lunch with other Cornell students and we had a surprise visit from Professor Barbara Christie-Pope!  I’ve been trying to arrange my schedule so I could have lunch with other students doing research here at the University of Iowa since my first week but science can be unpredictable and some days it’s hard to get away from the bench at an exact time. Needless to say, this was the first week I could meet up with anyone. I met Chris Lopez, a fellow Fellow doing research here, and Elise Meade, a past Fellow who happens to be doing research here at the U of Iowa this summer as well. We met at a semi-random table on the main floor of one of the research buildings. Throughout our lunchtime a number of people walked through the doors near our table and then we spotted Barbara. Barbara is helping in a lab that she worked in last summer and just happened to be coming into the lab that day. It was fun to talk to her as we caught her up on what we were all doing and she told us about some of her summer. I am amazed at how you never know whom you may run into walking around the research campus!

Week 3: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

July 10th, 2012

Maria Davis ’13, Dimensions Fellow in Research- Inflammation and Wound Healing

Even though the 4th of July allowed me to have some free time, this week has been by far my busiest week. On top of that I would say that it has also had the steepest (but beneficial) learning curve. I have finally learned enough about my basic work to be on my own for quite a few things.

I started the week focusing on my tissue culture project. As mentioned before, we are currently concerned with fibroblasts and keratinocytes. Last week the cells were isolated from our wild type mice and were plated and began growing. This week we separated the cells depending on the test we were interested in investigating. We put some of the cells aside to be studied later while some of the other cells we continued to “feed”, with specific culture medium so they would continue to grow. Tissue culture can be tricky business. Not only do you have to be super careful not to contaminate anything but it is also sometimes difficult to know exactly when they will be “ready” (or confluent). I’ve learned that patience is a must when working with tissue culture. While my tissue culture project hasn’t been perfect, most things have gone pretty well and I am lucky to be learning from Dr. Martine Dunnwald who has perfected many of the details necessary in growing skin cells such as keratinocytes and fibroblasts.

Most of the last half of my week was focusing on my in vivo study of wound healing. While I had most of the day off on the 4th, I did have to report to the lab in order to take pictures of our mice so we could later assess and analyze the wound healing process. Throughout the rest of the week I was busy collecting more pictures of the wounds, as well as harvesting and embedding the wounds. In order to better understand the wound healing process the wounds are removed and embedded in paraffin to later be sectioned so we can analyze a number of things that will allow us to answer our primary question: are the wounds of the mice with the missing receptor healing faster or slower than those that have the receptor? The embedding process is very important, as it is the preliminary step to sectioning. If the embedding is done correctly, then it will be easy to section and if it isn’t done correctly the opposite is true. Luckily, I had an experienced teacher: Frank Canady, an undergraduate research assistant in Martine’s lab.  Frank just finished his sophomore year at Grinnell College and has been working in the lab for a number of years, so he knows his way around very well. Frank taught me that the process wasn’t super difficult but is time consuming (about 6.5 hours or so) and takes some attention to special details.

While it may seem like all I do is hard-core science all day, I do have other things to do during the day. For example, I have two lab meetings to attend every week and another optional (since I am not technically part of their lab) discussion based session with Jeff Murray’s lab. The Murray Lab, lead by Jeff Murray, is a lab that focuses on identifying genetics and environmental factors causing cleft lip and premature birth. Technically, Martine’s lab is under the Murray lab but they sort of feel like separate entities, even so I was invited to attend weekly discussions that Jeff leads for the undergraduate and graduate students that work specifically in his lab. The discussions vary weekly but are definitely interesting as each student gives their input on topics such as different moral issues involved in scientific research. I think that the sessions are very stimulating as it urges us to explore topics we often don’t discuss. I’m excited to see what is to come in the next few weekly discussions.

Fun fact of the week: I am dog sitting the cutest (but sometimes ornery) dog. Below you will see a picture of Clio, an extremely adorable and playful 9-month year old miniature Goldendoodle. She loves to go on walks and entertain anyone who is willing to watch. Although she can sometimes revert to bad puppy behavior it’s hard to be mad at such a cute little face! Wouldn’t you agree?! :)

Week 2: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

July 3rd, 2012

Maria Davis ’13, Dimensions Fellow in Research- Inflammation and Wound Healing

While life in the lab has been busy, it has been exciting learning more of the basics that are required for me to make it through the next 8 weeks. While there is definitely a lot to learn and new skills to acquire, I definitely feel that I have been adequately prepared to take the challenge. Lab work is unique and takes practice, but luckily I have obtained basic skills in my biology and chemistry courses at Cornell as well as through previous summer research experience. While learning the technical side of lab work is extremely important, it is just as important to understand why a specific test or experiment is being carried out. I believe that I am lucky to have been challenged by my professors at Cornell (especially in the Biology and Chemistry departments) to do more than just memorize material, but to truly learn how to think and understand my subject at hand.  My professors have required that I intellectually reason and formulate questions, which is definitely something that I have needed to put into action this week as I began diving into my lab work.

Before I begin describing some of the basic work I have began to learn and practice, I will remind you of my project and explain it a little more. I am studying a receptor that is known to be involved in the innate immune system. It is in a family of receptors that have been involved in the production and secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines. My project specifically is studying this receptor in the context of wound healing to gain a better idea of what it does. As you can probably guess, inflammation is important in wound healing but too much can also be a bad thing. On top of that, it has already been shown that the receptor is highly expressed in epithelial cells and keratinocytes, which are involved in the wound healing as well.

My work in the lab is both in vivo (within the living) and in vitro (within the glass). This week I have been primarily learning about and working with mice but I was also introduced to tissue culture. In studying the wound healing process in both wild type mice (normal mice that possess a phenotype or in our case the specific receptor) versus knockout mice (abnormal mice that do not possess a phenotype or in our case do not have the specific receptor) we will hopefully better understand the receptor’s role.  By working with the animals directly and we can study how their wounds are healing and what is specifically involved. Along side that idea, we are also interested in comparing specific cells in both the wild type and knockout mice and this can be done through tissue culture. In combination of both in vivo and in vitro work we will gain a more rounded idea of what role the receptor may have.

Every day this week I learned a new technique and whether it was how to properly handle the mice, how to prevent contamination with my cells, prepare solutions to fix our isolated wounds or set up an assay to detect the presence of a certain substance I was never bored. There was always something to do or learn and great people to help me. Oh and don’t worry, I’ll introduce you to more people I work with in my lab in the upcoming blogs!

All in all, it was a great week.  There was definitely, a lot of learning and details involved, but thankfully I have been prepared with the skills and ability to properly learn the ropes!

Fun fact of the week: it was Jazz Fest in Iowa City! Jazz Fest is an annual event that takes place downtown Iowa City. There is a lot of great music on both the main stage and other side stages as well awesome food vendors along the streets. As I mentioned in my last blog, I’ve grown up near Iowa City but in the past few years I haven’t been able to make it to Jazz fest. Therefore, it was great to experience Jazz Fest once again as I relaxed, ate and listen to great music!

The main stage at the Iowa City Jazz Festival.

Week 1: University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine

June 26th, 2012

Maria Davis ’13, Dimensions Fellow in Research- Inflammation and Wound Healing

I have lived near Iowa City virtually my entire life but the first week of my Fellowship has given me a new perspective on this small city. Through my new eyes as a Fellow I have now seen the lifestyle of an academic and researcher. While you could argue that I technically have yet to become either, I believe that I have indeed been given more than just the opportunity to see this lifestyle but also begin to experience it.

The University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine is my new source of academia for the next 8 weeks. While I’m not sitting in classroom everyday or technically tested over my new found knowledge, this Fellowship (naturally) has a large education component. Although a good portion of my first week included watching a number of Power Points to fulfill my required lab training, I won’t bore you with the fine details of properly removing used gloves (which I learned from four different Power Points). Rather, I will introduce you to the two labs (yes, two!) I’m working in and my primary project.

Through my Fellowship I have the unique opportunity to participate in the collaborative work between one lab that focuses on specific receptors in the innate immune system, which is the first line of defense against invading microorganisms. The other lab focuses on the role of certain genes involved in the skin, epidermal development and regeneration. My specific project as I work between these two labs is studying a receptor that is known to be involved in the innate immune response and to discover more about its involvement, either beneficial or detrimental, in the wound healing process. During this week, I have been challenged to begin reading and understanding the literature surrounding this specific receptor as well as learn about some of the basic lab techniques I will be using to carry out my investigative work. I am far from understanding everything I need to know, but so far I am truly enjoying everything I have learned.

As I explore these two fields of research, I have the extraordinary and unique opportunity of having two wonderful mentors. Dr. Sophie Joly is from the Iowa Inflammation Program, the immunology lab mentioned above, and Dr. Martine Dunnwald from the Department of Pediatrics, who focuses on the skin and epidermis research. So far in these first few days, they have introduced me to their work as well as what my involvement will entail as an undergraduate researcher working under their guidance. I can already tell that they will be pushing me in the next 8 weeks to have a true understanding of both my scholarly and technical work.

I am extremely excited for the weeks to come and to learn more about the lifestyle of an academic and researcher at the University of Iowa in Iowa City!

Fun fact of the week: I discovered that my second cousin once removed works in my lab! Leah Biggs has been working under Dr. Dunnwald while studying towards her PhD at the University of Iowa and she is my new found cousin. While making small talk at lunch one day, we discovered that we both had family from the same town in western Iowa. One thing lead to another and Leah realized that her grandma and my great-grandmother were sisters. It’s crazy how small the world is! I am excited to work with Leah, who is extremely skilled and knowledgeable, in the next few weeks during my Fellowship before she moves on to do her postdoctoral work in Finland!

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