Reflecting on my summer of research

In my last post, I mentioned that I would be conducting a major experiment seeking to elucidate the effect of our experimental compound on the efficacy of the existing neuroblastoma immunotherapy. My entire summer built up to this experiment, and I am thrilled to report that the results were largely positive. We were concerned that our experimental compound might interfere with the effectiveness of the existing immunotherapy, an antibody that modulates antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (among other immune processes) against tumor cells. Therefore, we were ecstatic to discover that the experimental compound actually appears to increase the efficacy of this process – at least in our simplified, in vitro ADCC model. Of course, as I have mused, research is rarely a linear path. Although we repeated this experiment twice more with the same results, the findings provoked new questions about our assay that will require future experimentation to affirm the validity of our conclusion. And, most importantly, we still need to assess how our experimental compound works with the immunotherapy in vivo, as live animals are far more complex than any in vitro model. Still, I am quite satisfied with my work, our findings, and how the summer wrapped up.

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Tumor cells that I maintained this summer in the incubator. As I’ve learned, in vitro models greatly simplify in vivo processes, which is both good and bad.

All in all, I do think I met my learning goals for the summer. I wanted to experience science in the “real world,” and this project, with its trials, challenges, and triumphs, definitely did just that. Participating in this project taught me how to transfer academic knowledge into a real-world context. I also wanted to learn more about biomedical research, as I am currently applying to veterinary school and am potentially interested in a career that combines clinical medicine and research. Participating in this internship opened my eyes to the world of research. I saw that even though research can be tedious and slow, it can also be incredibly exciting and fulfilling. This internship definitely piqued my interest in pursuing a career as a veterinary clinician-scientist.

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There is something thrilling about producing data that both answers questions and sparks new ones.

To other students interested in pursuing a similar internship, I would stress the importance of patience. For most of the summer, the research seemed very slow-going. I took about six weeks to become comfortable with the techniques and protocols and feel competent in the lab. At the same time, for many weeks we were attempting to utilize an assay that was not sensitive enough for our purposes, and running failing experiments over and over again was disheartening. However, this is all part of research and the learning curve; perseverance is definitely a vital quality in any researcher, especially one who is new to the field. Additionally, I would stress the necessity of keeping an organized notebook, as carefully writing up all of my experiments definitely made it easier to keep details straight as we progressed throughout the summer.

All in all, I am most proud of how much I was able to learn this summer: about neuroblastoma, immunotherapy, research, and my own ambitions.

Michelle Oberman ’16

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