Summer in the Sun
Final Week!

Well, it’s my final week in Albuquerque and I will admit that it is a bittersweet feeling.  I have had a great time being in the southwest for the summer, and I ended up enjoying working in the lab a lot more that I thought I would.  At the same time though, everyone else on the Lawrence cross country team reported to campus yesterday and will be spending the majority of the week up at Bjorklunden, while I will not be able to join them until next week.

This past week we have been able to collect blood samples from people as part of the study to determine genetic variation in healthy human donors.  On top of the work involved with this, I have been finishing up a few other sets of experiments and have put everything together for a presentation this afternoon.  Making a PowerPoint with everything that I have worked on this summer has made me realize how much I truly had the opportunity to be a part of.

I honestly don’t know what to write about right now, as I haven’t really been doing anything new in lab recently.  I guess I will include a few pictures of some Immunohistochemistry staining that I worked on last week.  Both are from slides made of the bone marrow of the mice that I was able to dissect recently.  While both mice were engrafted with leukemia, the first picture (bluish) is of the mouse that was treated with the antibody that I have been working with while the second picture (brown) is from an untreated mouse.  Without going into too much detail, the brown parts are that color because they are specific leukemia cells.

It is kind of cool to see how the treatment that I have been working with here makes a definite impact on a cancerous disease.  While it doesn’t show a full cure, there is undoubtedly progress made and it is encouraging for future tests.

Thanks again for reading!

Sam Stevens (‘13)

As I mentioned in my last entry, I was very excited about the opportunity to extract organs from the mice.  Last Monday I did indeed get to cut open a few mice and take out the liver, spleen, and a femur as well as make some blood smears.  For the first part of the week, extracting mouse organs was really the only thing that was out of the ordinary.

However, Thursday was an extremely exciting day for me.  I spent a few hours in the morning shadowing Dr. James Mckinnell and his team as they performed rounds over in the hospital.  He is a member of the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology group at the UNM Hospital so I had the opportunity of see patients at different stages of treatment for leukemia as well as other forms of cancer and blood diseases.  It was amazing to see how it was really a team caring for the patients, as the entire group reviewed the treatments that each patient was receiving before going to visit them.

After following during rounds in the hospital, I got to learn how to draw blood for the first time!  Dr. Winter was gracious enough to allow me to draw blood from one of his arms while Ksenia did the same to his other arm right afterwards.  I have to admit that sticking a needle into someone is definitely a strange experience at first.  After Dr. Winter drew blood from Ksenia and I, I was able to begin the process of genotyping us for the FcγRIII receptor (what I have been working on this summer).  I am currently in the final steps of genotyping our blood, so I am looking forward to finding out something about myself that I never thought I would know!

This weekend I decided that it was my best chance to hike up the Sandia Mountains that are on the east edge of Albuquerque.  Saturday morning I got up early to start hiking and to beat the heat.  The trails I took ended up being around 10miles long and raised an elevation of 3,819 feet.  It took me a little bit over three hours and I spent the rest of the day napping and just laying around.  It was a lot more tiring that I thought it would be!

This week I will be continuing the experiments that I have been working on all summer as well as finishing up my presentation for the lab meeting next Monday.  I’ve realized that I only have two weeks left here and time has gone by extremely fast!  If you find yourself with some extra time, feel free to look through some pictures that I have put up at http://samsnmpics.shutterfly.com.  Thanks for reading!

 

Sam Stevens ’13

Putting Everything Together

Well, these last few days I have been starting to work on tying together everything that I have been working on this summer.  Part of this is organizing everything that I need in order to put together a poster about my experience once I return to Lawrence this fall.  In addition, I will be preparing a presentation to give for the weekly lab meeting here at UNM in two weeks.  This involves organizing everything that I have done into a PowerPoint presentation and discussing how it all ties into the ‘big picture’ of the research being conducted here.  I will admit that I am a little bit nervous for this, but I also feel confident that I have learned a lot this summer and am able to articulate what I have learned and worked on.

This past weekend was fairly low-key.  On one day I drove to the top of some mountains and hiked around up there for a little while, but other than that I took it fairly easy after rolling my ankle while running on some trails Friday night.  Luckily I do not have to run as far this week, so I will have a chance to heal up as well as work on my presentation a bit.

Last week I also had the opportunity to observe as organ samples were collected from mice that had been involved in a study over the last couple months.  I was able to learn a couple different techniques used to make blood smears and later on Dr. Winter took me to the lab in the hospital where the smears are stained.  I was also able to look at these smears under a microscope and see what different cells look like (both healthy and leukemic cells).  This was a bit of hands-on learning and was very helpful in understanding what is really going on with the cells.  Today (Monday) we are collecting more organ samples and blood smears of mice and I get to try my hand at extracting organs!

Also, make sure to check out the pictures I have put up at http://samsnmpics.shutterfly.com.  There are new pictures from last week and a few more should be going up later today.  Thanks for reading!

Sam Stevens ‘13

This last week in lab went by very smoothly, and in order to not make this too boring I will just say that I have been conducting the same tests that I have learned over the last month and a half.  While the conditions of specific tests have changed, the biggest difference that I have dealt with is that as I have become more proficient at these, I have begun multi-tasking more often.  When I have multiple tests running at the same time, it becomes much more important to pay attention to the time.  Being more familiar with the protocol has helped out because I no longer have to look at my notes to see how many minutes a sample is supposed to sit on ice or which concentration of a chemical needs to be added.  It may sound quite basic, but I am sure that I would have gone insane if I tried running multiple tests at the same time.

Some of my readers have complained that I don’t write enough about what I am doing outside of the lab (you guys know who you are!) so I will try to touch on that a little bit now.  The only real free time that I have is on the weekends.  During the week I am in the lab from 9-5 on most days.  Every night I go for a run (getting ready for the upcoming Cross Country season at LU) and by the time I eat and take care of a few chores it is fairly late.  On the weekends, I try to get out and hike/bike a little bit (when I’m not sleeping or running) because there are some beautiful trails going up into the mountains just a mile away from my apartment.

Another ‘hobby’ that I have been somewhat forced to work on is cooking!  Andrew Commons at Lawrence makes my life so easy during the school year, needing only to swipe my ID card to get any kind of food that I want.  This summer I have spent a lot of time at a nearby Albertson’s to get food.  In the past, I had easily mastered the art of putting a frozen pizza in the oven or preparing Raman noodles.  This summer I have tried to eat healthy, meaning that I have only cooked one pizza so far…it also means that I spend a lot more time cooking pasta and chicken from the grocery store.  One night I even cooked a couple pieces of salmon, but that may have been too difficult to try again!

Well, I hope that you’ve enjoyed that little insight into my free time.  If you have any questions about what I’m working on in the lab or anything about Albuquerque in general, feel free to comment on these posts (there should be a ‘comment’ button beneath each one) and I will try to get back to you on those.  Also, I’ve put up a couple of picture albums online at http://samsnmpics.shutterfly.com.  One album has some picture from working in the lab with Ksenia Matlawska-Wasowska and Dr. Winter.  The other one is from a day-trip that Ksenia and her husband took me on to El Morro National Monument a few weeks ago.  I will try to add some more pictures in the near future.

Sam Stevens ‘13

Halfway!

            These last couple weeks in the lab have gone by so quickly!  I have still been spending most of my time on two main focuses.  The first focus involves all the steps of taking a blood sample and finding out the genotype for a specific gene locus.  This was my main focus for the first few weeks in lab and involved optimizing a couple of different PCR reactions that are used to amplify a specific section of DNA.

            These last couple of weeks my focus has shifted to working on a test that looks at the rate that an antibody is internalized by a cell (from the outer surface of the cell to the inner surface).  This has been one of the more frustrating tests to work on because half of the samples are rinsed in a very acidic buffer for a couple of minutes.  This is crucial in stripping away the antibodies from the outside of the cell, but most of the time it has ended up killing most of the cells.

            It has been very interesting to see how over time I have become a lot more comfortable with running these tests and I am surer of what I am doing in the lab now.  In the last couple of weeks I have also had the opportunity to observe some lab mice get injected as part of a study.  That was definitely a first for me and put scientific research in a slightly different light.  Having finished my first 5 weeks here in Albuquerque, I’m really looking forward to my last 5 to be able to learn a few new tests as well as optimize the older ones.

            Outside of lab I have had the chance to see a few more interesting things as well.  My brother (Paul Stevens ’10) flew out to visit for a few days the other weekend so it was very nice to see a familiar face.  One of the highlights of his visit was our day-trip to Carlsbad Caverns.  While it was a 5-hour drive south of Albuquerque, it was well worth it to see some of the most impressive caves in the world!  It was honestly like going to a different planet and was a shock to walk back out into the sunlight after 4 hours underground.

            I hope everyone back in Wisconsin is surviving the heat…it consistently gets to the mid-90s here but at least it isn’t humid.  Thanks for taking the time to read!

Sam Stevens (‘13)

New Week, New Experiences!

This last week was a little bit short, but if anything that just made is busier than usual.  On Monday I had the opportunity to shadow Dr. Winter while he did some clinical procedures in the morning.  While I have done some shadowing in the past, I never got to watch any operations in person until Monday.  I was allowed to be in the room while Dr. Winter performed some “routine” spinal taps as part of chemotherapy for some leukemia patients as well as a bone marrow biopsy.  I have to admit that it was amazing to see what they consider “routine” in the hospital and to see the teamwork that all the doctors and nurses need to display for each operation.  It was definitely a great experience to see the practical/clinical side of leukemia research.

Meanwhile, back at the lab, we switched the focus from the PCR reactions to the binding of antibodies to the leukemia cells.  What that meant for me is that I spent most of my time working on a test in which cells and antibodies are mixed and then I had to stabilize a portion of the mixture every hour throughout the day.  After doing this on a couple of different cell lines, we took the hourly samples and measured the amount of antibody that was bound using a very cool machine called a Flow Cytometer.  To be completely honest, I’m not quite sure yet how it works other than being able to measure the fluorescence of thousands of cells in only a minute but I will be finding that out over the next few days!

It was definitely nice to have a little change of routine after having done the same thing for a while.  In the near future there is a chance that I will get to work on some genetic sequencing so I am looking forward to that as well!

Sam Stevens ‘13

Week 2: Gel-o!

My second week in the lab turned out being a little bit different than the first.  I felt a lot more comfortable using the techniques and procedures that I learned during the first week.  The majority of my week was spent doing the same few things, but with varying conditions in order to see which tweaks in the procedure make it work best.  In order to check on what worked best, I ended up making and setting up quite a few sets of agarose gels.  After getting them set up and hooked to an electric power source, the gel is eventually imaged stained with a dye that makes the nucleic acid products visible using a UV imaging system.  While it sounds fairly complicated, keeping everything consistent was crucial in comparing different conditions.  An example of the final images attained are:

Both of these pictures were taken at the same point in the procedure, but with differing concentrations of different chemicals.  A quick comparison shows that the first one (with green tape on the top) is much clearer and easier to interpret than the second photo, so we kept working with the conditions from the first test.

One difficulty in focusing intensely on a specific aspect of the procedure is that it’s easy to lose track of the ‘big picture’.  I have to sometimes remind myself that the entire project is geared towards implementing an alternate method of treatment for leukemia (instead of the standard chemotherapy that is so grueling on patients).  It is always important to keep mind of the big picture, even while focusing on a small aspect of it.

I am currently looking forward to the upcoming week for a couple reasons.  The first is that we should hopefully be able to move on to another aspect of the project that will at least change up my days a little bit!  Secondly, on Tuesday I have the opportunity to shadow Dr. Winter for some time while he is working in the clinic.  I am excited for this because it will allow me to see the aspect of the medicine that deals with application instead of focusing on the scientific aspect in the lab.  I am hoping it gives a little bit of perspective on the overall project and it will definitely be a new experience.

Lastly, Happy 4th of July to everyone!  Here in New Mexico they have been dealing with a lot of fires from the recent drought, so the use of fireworks is frowned upon in the area.  Every once in a while I still hear firecrackers, but I have not seen many aerial fireworks yet.  It is a very big difference from Wisconsin, where it seemed like nearly every family lit off fireworks!

Sam Stevens ‘13

Troubleshooting

I’ve made it through a whole week in the lab now and there is one main thing that I have learned: Experiments don’t always go as planned!  While I have spent most of this first week just learning my way around the lab and learning techniques, the last couple days were spent working extensively with running samples through gel electrophoresis.  The results that we saw from these tests were not at all what we expected to see (even the control sample did not work correctly), so we tried quite a few different alterations in the procedure to attempt to fix this issue.  After a day of trying everything we could think of, it ended up that the issue was with how we were making the gels that we were using to run the tests.  This ultimately helped to show me that real science is a lot different from what is learned in a theoretical classroom setting (and can also be incredibly frustrating!).

After a week I am feeling a lot more comfortable in the lab, and really feel that I have been learning a lot about the project and the processes involved with it.  The tentative plan for this upcoming week is to tweak with the protocol of the gel electrophoresis tests some more to ideally streamline the process so that samples of DNA can be tested for the presence of a specific amino acid quickly and accurately for future tests.  While the first couple days in lab were spent learning the small details of procedures and different equipment, now at the end of the week it has been exciting to see the work as part of a ‘big picture’.

On a more personal note, I have been enjoying having the weather at ~100F and sunny every day!  Especially since I have heard that there has been nearly-constant rain back in Wisconsin! 

Sam Stevens ‘13

Day One

Well, today was the day.  For a few months now I have been looking forward to starting research at the University of New Mexico out here in Albuquerque and today was my first day in the lab.  To be honest, the lab looks a lot like the ones back at Lawrence, so it wasn’t a completely new experience.  But, the overall mentality that I felt from everyone else in the lab was a little bit different.  Everyone that I met and was able to talk to was generally enthusiastic and excited about their projects and they had a wide range of experience so I didn’t feel too out of place.

Just as a recap of my first day, I spent the first couple hours getting a tour of the UNM Hospital and the next-door Health Sciences Center (where the lab is located) from Dr. Stuart Winter (LU ‘83).  It was great to see the way that the hospital worked behind the scenes from Dr. Winter.  It has been really encouraging to interact with a group of people that are on the leading edge of research for childhood leukemia.  Following my ‘tour’ and introductions I was able to start learning about the specific projects from Ksenia Matlawska-Wasowska, PhD.  I learned more from talking with her for a couple hours than I probably could have from sitting down with a textbook for a couple of days.  In a nutshell, the research is geared towards finding an alternate treatment to traditional chemotherapy for leukemia.

Apart from starting in the lab today, I have to admit that Albuquerque is an amazing city!  For people that know me, it is obvious that my biggest passion is running.  The apartment that I’m staying in is on the eastern edge of the city right along the mountains.  Just a half mile from where I’m living are some amazing trails that go all the way up the mountains (I don’t plan on running all the way up!) so needless to say I have been in heaven with regard to running to far!  It has been quite a change from the Midwest (Appleton/Green Bay) both because of the hot, dry weather and also because of a huge elevation difference (700’ vs 6,000+’) so breathing has been quite a bit more difficult.

I realize now that I have basically just been rambling on but even after just a few days in the Southwest I have had such a great experience.  It is definitely something that I would have never even thought about doing without the LU-R1 program providing the opportunity.

Lastly I just want to include a picture from the top of the Sandia Mountains that I took the first day I arrived in Albuquerque with my parents.  We took a 1.5 mile long tram up the top of the mountains, rising to over 11,000’.  The mountains that can be made out in the distance are a bit hazy because of the Arizona wildfires going on, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that the fires don’t spread into NM!

Sam Stevens ‘13