Mice, fluorescent cells and my molecular quest to fight cancer: A day in the life of a rocker scientist

in #science4 years ago

In my short career as a Steemian, I have talked about my love for wonderful pieces of cinema, martial arts, traveling, fitness and self-actualization. However, my main occupation, the one I have dedicated a big portion of my life to, is actually science.

As I mentioned in my introduction post, I am currently completing a PhD in Molecular Cell Biology, applied to the field of cancer research. 

However, as professional and sciencey as I might look in the shots above (taken to accompany a local magazine article about the research being carried out in out group), it is my duty to disclose that on a regular basis I actually look more like this:

Hence the title of this post… fitting? You be the judge.

One of the advantages of working as a scientist is the lack of a fixed dress code to conform to. You can dress as plain and boring or as eccentric and fashionable as you want and no one gives a damn – especially if you work in basic science or theoretical fields, where it is almost expected that you will be a little bit nuts.

So what does a good day of work in my field look like? 

Usually, the very first thing that I do upon arrival, is going to the cell culture room to change the medium of cells to which I added a specific treatment to act overnight. This can be a chemotherapy treatment in the case of lymphoma cells, or transfection medium for my Phoenix cells.

If it’s a Monday, however, chances are that I will encounter this and will have to deal with it before I can start my own work – scientists can be lazy, lazy people sometimes!

The transfection procedure allows me to introduce genes or other genetic material into a cell, usually to make them produce a protein or other product that I am interested in. In order to know whether you succeeded on genetically modifying the targeted cells, a marker is added to the genetic material inserted. Often this marker produces a fluorescent protein that is produced along your product of interest, so it is easy to detect using a fluorescence microscope.

Once done with cell culture, I usually go up to the Mouse House, where my assigned group of mice awaits for their regular checkup. You can think of these mice as tiny patients: I monitor their health, and treat them whenever they start getting sick and developing tumors. Then, I follow up their response to the treatment. They are the experimental subjects for our ongoing research, which is aimed to find specific molecular targets that make tumor cells particularly vulnerable – in other words, we try to find what makes cancer tumor cells special and radically different in the way they function compared to normal cells, in order to discover their “Achilles heel” and find treatments that kill them selectively while leaving normal cells unaffected.

The goal of our work, thus, is to find a way to make cancer treatment more specific and effective, while reducing its negative effects on the patient at the same time.

We have a big, international team of people working in the lab, so every now and then we get to have a very welcomed cake break to celebrate somebody’s birthday or other special occasions. We all gather in the kitchen room and have a nice coffee break full of baked goodies!

Depending on the experiment scheduled for the day, in the late afternoon I will have a technologic date with one of those fancy machines with gentlemen’s names: I will go and spend some time with Victor if I need to measure chemoluminiscence or protein concentration in my samples; alternatively, if I need to do some protein analysis, I will lock myself in a tiny, dim room downstairs with Simon for a good 30-40 minutes.

Meet my regular allies and collaborators in this science life: Above, Victor. Below, Simon. (Image sources: 1,2)

Finally, at the end of the day, it is time to confirm that my cells are producing my protein of interest. Remember what I said above about how we use fluorescent markers for this? Well, here they are:

Green means victory!  Voilà! 

When I was fifteen, I read an article about Genetic Engineering and I thought it was the coolest thing I had heard about; right there and then, I vowed I would pursue a career in Science to do it one day myself. Every time I see my cells glowing green as a result of the genes I introduced into them, it makes me remember that moment, and smile.

"In the future... a new generation of artists will be writing genomes as fluently as Blake and Byron wrote verses".  

You don’t have to be a scientist to enjoy science! That's part of the beauty of it.




Thank you very much for your post, and for disclosing your very important work. In general, what therapy do you think is the best? Is it surgery, chemo, radiation? Also, I am sure you have heard of the Robert Beck protocoll, what do you think of it? Thank you again @irime. Following you.

In fact, the more I learn about cancer, the more I come to realize that most likely there is not a "silver bullet" approach that works for every case. If I had to bet on something, though, I would say that boosting your immune system to be more effective recognizing and disposing of cancer cells would be the way to go. However, current advances on this front are far from satisfactory and sometimes even cause more damage than benfit in the long run.

Speaking of silver bullets, I had to google to see that the "Robert Beck Protocol" was. I think I had encountered it before, but did not look further into it due to the lack of convincing evidence about it and the pseudo-sciencey vibe emanating from most of the information surrounding it (questionable claims, testimonial evidence, conspiracy theories and lack of reproducibility).

Thank you for your comment, @lucky.digger!

Thank you irime for your expansive answer. Please comment on MMS too. As I know it is often used in your region. In this case please only review Andreas Kalcher's work, the rest is nonsense.

No problem, as you can see, when prompted I actually get quite chatty and gladly engaged in the interaction. Just the way I roll, I guess!

Man, you are giving me some homework now ;-) Can't make any promises because I am super busy this week, though. Cheers!

Upvoted and followed!!
OMG, I actually laughed when you show that plate reader Victor out!! really nice one there haha!!

And high five for scientists without fix dress code~

High five indeed!

Just checked your entry for the challenge and made me curious so I took a look at your feed, nice work! Glad to find other Science people here on Steemit, following back @biuiam

Thanks for checking out mine too!!
Finding other Science people is so good, the steemSTEM community is awesome too~

Hello Irime How are you doing?

@akaashkashi Not too badly for a Steemit newbie, it would seem ;-)

Does research into epigenetics play a role in your work?

It does in the general sense of the topic we explore (stress responses in tumor cells), and there are people in the team directly working on epigenetics in our model of cancer. It is important for the maintenance of the anti-tumor mechanism we study, since some genes required to be silenced for it to be successful.

My personal project has more to do with mechanisms of molecular disposal in the cell (aka the cell's garbage cans), I am sorry to be vague about it, but the field is rather small so I would be easily identified and I am not ready for outing my "real life" identity yet (paranoid? perhaps).

No worries, I am in no need of details. =) However, if the photos you are posting are really of you, then, Steemit people in Berlin could possibly identify you on the street. BTW, Berlin rocks! =)
I was just curious as it appears the study of epigenetics appeared to have made waves in the genetic science. It is then interesting when then when considering, the scientific articles I have thus far read, the science of genetics holds that genes are for more responsive, or adaptive to environmental factors, rather than a deterministic jail cell that we are born into.
I have also read much lately that cannabis can play a role in the treatment of cancer. What is your take on that?

Definitely, let's say that your genetic material is like a recipe book, but how such recipes are interpreted, combined and modified to create a final product depends on the training of the chef, the occasion, and circumstances at a given time, the resources available, etc. The indications on the genotype are not set on stone, they are flexible to a degree.

Honestly, I don't know a lot about cannabis used for cancer treatment. I am afraid that my time and attention is mostly focused on the compounds and treatments that pertain my project (which is not necessarily a good thing!), as well as other widely used therapies.

About the anonymity (or lack of thereof): as it can be deduced from the amount of photos of myself and other random identifying details I have posted, I am not exactly trying to be incognito, but I don't want to directly link my academic activities to my Steemit profile, at least not yet. I have nothing to hide, but my instincts tell me it is better this way.

Is your work bound up with a producing a pharmaceutical product, or are you purely research based?

If a purely natural remedy (non-industrially processed) cure was proven to cure cancer, does that put you out of a job?

My profile I present on here is all related to my art or creativity. My personal life remains offline. ;-)

Great post! Thanks for sharing! Fun to see that labs look similar all over!

They really do, don't they? Hopefully you are not talking about the trash cans left full to the brim, though! ;-)

That too! I tried to be a good labmate, but I know we let things go a little too long sometimes! Lots of trying to push the trash down a little more to get another day (or hope someone else will do it!).

Awww beautiful post and grr to the lazy scientists it is the most infuriating thing to be emptying all the bins and everyone else's rubbish (write an angry note :P)! Good luck in your PhD and research into cancer treatment.

@margojensen Usually, the cleaning ladies and the technical assistants are the people who often have to resort to passive aggressive notes to remind everyone to be a bit more cooperative.

Thanks a lot for commenting! Good luck to you as well.

"Every time I see my cells glowing green as a result of the genes I introduced into them, it makes me remember that moment, and smile." Best. Quote. Ever.

@innerlight Even right next to the quote about Blake and Byron and the genomes? I feel flattered! ;-)

hahahaha I didn't even think about it until you made the point. Hilarious

@mobbs maybe you commented on the wrong post? Your comment makes no sense in this context, or am I missing something? Do I produce involuntary comedy now? Perhaps...

So glad you commented on my intro post; otherwise it might have been some time before I found your profile. Love your content. What I didn't mention in my intro was that I have a BA Biology with a minor in Chemistry. I actually never considered writing about my first love; which is science. Thanks for the reminder. I am following back and upvoted this story.

@livingprosperity, I somehow had missed this wonderful comment of yours!

As you will probably notice, there is currently a lot of misinformation and misguided opinions regarding basic scientific topics circulating in this platform. Hence, I am so happy that other intelligent and creative people with strong science backgrounds like you are joining Steemit. Looking forward to reading more from you!

I start with you practicing BJJ and wondering how you can have such meticulous grammar and punctuation, I proceed to read about your tastes in cinema, then dietary advice, and now you're a scientist. Should I keep reading? I'm worried what else you might turn out to be.

Maybe I am just a creepy old dude in a basement typing stuff and publishing it along with some "borrowed" Instagirl pics ;-)

I do have a wide variety of interests (also the reason why I can't be a full time Steemian) although if you think about it they are all connected. Steemit is helping me to try my hand at something I always was curious about: being a writer. Let's see how that goes, so far it has been very fun and have met lots of amazing people in the process.

Thank you @alexander.alexis to take some time to look around and leave such nice feedback!