My First Week at the Liver Research Center

I am a research assistant at the Liver Research Center, a facility that is part of the Lifespan Corporation and associated with the Brown Alpert Medical School. The building is located in downtown Providence, RI, nearby the Brown Medical School and Rhode Island Hospital. The research focuses around the molecular biology of liver diseases, using animal models including rats and mice. Ongoing studies examine the effects of nitrosamines, a type of chemical found in many processed foods, on insulin resistance in the brain which can result in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease. This study also involves the exploration of the potential mechanism between white matter degradation and Alzheimer’s development.

I am currently receiving training in various lab techniques and procedures. These include the fixation, sectioning and staining of samples, as well as accurate pipetting, bicinchoninic acid (BCA) protein assay protocol, Matrix Assisted Desorption Ionization Imaging Mass Spectrometry (MALDI-IMS), and cryostat sectioning.

This picture is from when I was practicing my pipetting technique:

Before beginning, I had little to no exposure to any of these procedures. It is exciting to be learning new practices everyday and I look forward to being able to implement them through the summer and in the future. I am also tasked with various reading about the procedures I am learning and the research in the lab. The readings are both interesting and challenging, as they are often scientific publications that introduce new terminology and require high levels of comprehension and concentration. Here is a link to a recent article I read in order to better understand MALDI: I was also assigned this review about the role of insulin resistance in Alzheimer’s Disease: Throughout the day, I receive articles like these in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of what I am performing or observing.

This is the desk where I do most of my reading: 

Once I finish the comprehensive training, I will be assisting in a research project that involves measuring the expression of genes that regulate sphingolipid biosynthesis and degradation in the white matter of rat brains that develop Alzheimer’s following low-dose exposures to Streptozotocin. I will also be characterizing insulin-modulation of sphingolipid metabolizing enzyme gene expression using frontal lobe slice cultures generated from control and Streptozotocin-treated rats and generating short-term brain slice cultures utilizing quantitative PT-PCR assays. I will also deliver a summative oral presentation and prepare a poster to be shown at a Brown University event. This work will assist the lab by providing a greater understanding of exactly how nitrosamines affect brain tissue, which can be used to provide greater education to the community about the harmful affects of such chemicals and the importance of an organic diet.

My goals for the summer are academic, career based and personal. My academic goal is to build on the knowledge I have gained from the two biology classes I have taken at Brandeis, Cells and Organisms and Genetics and Genomics, in order to more fully understand how concepts learned in class can be applied in a research setting. I will be building on models including RNA extraction, reverse transcriptase reactions, designing PCR primers, setting up PCR reactions and analyzing data. I will also learn numerous new skills and techniques that I can apply to future research endeavors. Additionally, I will acquire the skills of creating a poster, orally delivering my findings and writing a scientific paper. In addition to building upon and acquiring new skills, this opportunity will help prepare me for the Introduction to Neurology class I am planning to take next semester.

This experience will enhance my chances of being considered for future lab positions as well as help me decide if this is a career path I would like to pursue. Many lab opportunities are closed to students without previous lab experience. Working in a lab this summer will help me to gain the skills necessary to operate lab equipment, analyze data and become familiar with the collaborative environment of a lab, making me a competitive candidate for future research opportunities. I also have the opportunity to author a manuscript, which would increase my exposure in the research field and further my research endeavors.

My personal goal for the summer is to challenge myself to fully understand and master all components of the research I will be performing. I will task myself to ask the necessary questions in order to gain a complete understanding of the research, as well as work to eventually become more independent and confidence in this field.

~Dustine Reich, 2020