I’ve written a lot about my adventures exploring Paris since being here, but I am actually here to do research! Contrary to what it may seem like based on what I have been blogging about, I have been spending every weekday here in the lab! 😉
The project I am working on here is addressing some questions related to my “favorite protein,” IL-36g, in colon cancer that require human samples, as opposed to the mouse model I was using in Pittsburgh, to realistically address. In particular, it’s been interesting to look at IL-36 expression in samples taken from colon cancer patients, where I can analyze not just the tumor, but the entire microenvironment that includes stromal and immune cells and adjacent normal tissue, for expression patterns. This is different from the mouse model I was using, which is a transplantable model and therefore while the cells are derived from colon cancer, they are actually grown under the skin of my mice as opposed to in the colon.
Besides learning about colon pathology, I’m also excited to learn new imaging techniques! The reagents and equipment available here is all different from what I use in Pittsburgh, so I’ve really been enjoying getting to learn about different microscopes and slide preparations. In particular, I’m getting to use a technique (using tyramides) that makes it easier to look for multiple proteins on the same slide using immunofluorescence, no matter the species of origin of the primary antibodies; and two microscopes, one of which can scan an entire slide instead of imaging just one field of view at a time (which I’m currently working with), and another which is a multi-spectrum microscope that lets you stain for upwards of 4-5 colors/proteins per slide (as opposed to 3 on the average scope)! (This is important for my project since I’m interested in identifying which cells secrete my protein within tertiary lymphoid structures (TLS), so I might need to stain for my protein, cell type-specific markers, and markers of TLS on the same slide.) I also get to work with some nifty pieces of equipment for the staining itself that are completely automated, both for the antigen retrieval (to prepare the slides for staining) and staining steps. This is good for two reasons – it’s consistent between different batches of slides, and runs without human interaction after being programmed.
So while I’m still in the process of testing the antibodies I’ll ultimately use for my project, I’m really enjoying what I am working on here! And I’m almost done, after 6 weeks, with testing and validating my reagents, which means I should be able to start staining my cancer patient slides within the next couple of weeks!
I’m also (for the most part) enjoying the people in the lab! I’ve made some friends who besides helping me get acclimated to things around the lab, I have also spent time with outside of the lab exploring the city. I wasn’t sure what to expect before I arrived here, but having friends in lab makes the days even better!
I’m also pleased to say that my PI here is great – she has a very similar personality to my PI in Pittsburgh, which is sometimes eerie – and she is really letting me keep ownership of my project and direct the questions that I’ll be addressing while I am here. She’s also sending me to a conference in Germany this May!
For only having communicated by email with my PI here before confirming that I’d be coming to the lab, I can now say that I’ve gotten really lucky across the board with the whole situation. It’s certainly been a growing experience, both personally and scientifically. In particular from a scientific perspective, being able to direct my own project has given me some liberty to really think about what I want to know and how to address it, as well as to better my time management skills by balancing bench work and reading and writing – especially given the 6-month time frame I have to start and finish this project. It’s a good experience to have as I get towards the end of grad school and start thinking about my next step. Whether it’s in research or not, the independence I’ve been developing here will certainly be an asset moving forward. Personally, although it took some getting used to, I’ve also been enjoying that I spend most of the day communicating in French – my communication skills have definitely improved in the last two months! I’ve also gotten to learn first-hand about French culture (and discussing how it compares to the U.S.) from talking with my labmates. It’s been a learning experience unlike anything else I’ve had in 15 (!) years of studying French.
So in conclusion, although I write about science less than my other adventures, I have truly been enjoying every facet of my time here in Paris, including the science! I’ll make sure to update on my research throughout the next few months, too.