Looking Back and Forward – Weizmann Institute Internship Midpoint Review

I checked my calendar yesterday, and was surprised to see that I am already halfway through my internship!  It seems like I just started, and I am still getting used to the lab and the team.  But now that I have paused to look back at what I’ve learned, I realize how much I have accomplished in the past month.  I am progressing on a research project that I designed with Dr. Fisher and Dr. Segal on a potential Alzheimer’s drug.  I have been using the confocal microscope independently to test the drug on cultured neurons, and to measure its interaction with other chemicals.  I am now beginning a new project, taking high-resolution 3D images of neurons to measure growth after protein transfection.

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Flying over Israel in a two-seater plane with my supervisor!

Flying over Israel in a two-seater plane with my PI!

I have listed my original goals here so I can reflect on my progress so far:

1) To attend lectures and conferences hosted at the Weizmann Institute, which will encompass various scientific topics

In my second week here, I attended a lecture by Prof. David Wallach from the Department of Organic Chemistry.  I learned about the sustainability of today’s energy sources and the Weizmann Institute’s cutting-edge research on energy sources for the future.  The institute has a solar tower that contains a field of 64 mirrors, each approximately the size of a tennis court. Each mirror tracks the movement of the sun independently and reflects its light onto one target mirror to accumulate all the energy.  The downside of solar energy is that it cannot be stored, so Weizmann researchers are currently researching storable and sustainable energy options for the future.

The second lecture I attended was by Prof. Tony Futerman from the Department of Biological chemistry Department on “Sphingolipids in health and disease.”  The cell membrane is majorly made up of one kind of molecule, the phospholipid. Prof. Futterman has found that there are actually hundreds of thousands of different phopholipid structures within the membrane.  There are more variations of phospholipids than there are genes in our cells! Prof. Futterman is researching the significance of this variation and how mutations can affect or cause diseases such as Gaucher disease and Tay-Sachs disease.

2)    To gain insight into the connections between molecular studies and mainstream medical treatments

Within the Alzheimer’s disease research, I have worked directly with a drug that could be used in the future in clinical care.  Dr. Fisher and I have discussed the process of designing a drug, testing it in the laboratory, and bringing it into clinical trials.  I am hopeful that I have played a helpful role in the research of this drug, and that it will be successful in the long run.

3)    To improve my research skills and learn more about research on an international scale

The Segal lab currently has scientists from Israel, Russia, Armenia, and Germany, and is always welcoming new post-docs, masters students and summer interns from all over the world. I see the scientists around me working on their projects, and at our Sunday morning lab meetings (yes, in Israel we have to work on Sundays) I get to hear about their progress. This past Sunday morning I heard about one researcher’s work on seizure prevention. This is really science in the making, and it is so cool to be right here watching it happen.

I am most proud of my ability to adapt to the new research setting.  I was briefly taught how to use the confocal microscope, and was then left to use it on my own.  I was originally nervous working on my own – there’s a lot to remember to keep the (expensive!) microscope clean and functional.  Also, this was my first time working with a computer-based microscope, and so I had to master the complex computer system. But I’ve learned to be very careful, reviewing steps in my head before doing them, and so far so good!  This is definitely a skill that I will be able to take with me for the rest of my life. Learning to master skills quickly through attention to detail and patience is very important in medical training.  And with the constantly changing medical technologies, I will continue to practice this throughout my career.

– Shani Weiner

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