This summer I am doing kidney transplant rejection research at the Columbia University Irving Medical center. The start to my internship has been wonderful! On my first day, I was filled with excitement and nervousness. As I arrived at the Starbucks on the corner of Broadway and 168th in NYC, I was greeted by my supervisor and by my lab partner. Each morning and afternoon I take a brisk walk from my apartment on 186th, just 18 blocks away. Arriving at the Starbucks, that first morning, I was shown the route to the lab. My lab partner is from Finland, and as the first person that I have met from Finland, it will be great to do research together and also learn a bit about Finish culture.
Within the Columbia Irving Medical center there are many different departments, along with the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. You can see in the photo here the entrance to my building, titled the “College of Physicians and Surgeons – School of Medicine”. On some of the floors of the building the labs are specifically for medical and surgical medicine students. The floor that I am on however, is a part of the Department of Pathology and Cell Biology. Within this department, there are dozens of doctors doing both clinical work, as well as conducting research.
The doctor that I am working for specializes in
renal pathology, looking at the kidneys and the urinary system. She has patients who she often does not see face to face. As a pathologist, she will usually get the tissue samples on a slide for those patients needing medical attention. She will then look at the tissue sample under a microscope and, with a high level of expertise, she can withdraw critical information from looking at the cells and make diagnosis or predictions. The research looks specifically at kidney transplants and when they are rejected. After a person has kidney failure in both of their kidneys, they can either go on dialysis (this involves getting their blood filtered once, twice or even three times a week), or go on the transplant waiting list.
The waiting list can take a long time. When someone finally receives a new kidney, there is a shockingly high percentage of people that reject the new kidney. In America, 21% of patients reject a kidney within 5 years of getting a transplant. A kidney transplant would be rejected when the immune system does not see the new kidney as trying to help the body, but rather as a pathogen (a foreign substance) trying to harm the body, thus causing the immune system to attack and reject the kidney transplant. In an attempt to avoid this problem, patients that have a kidney transplant are put onto anti-rejection medication (immunosuppressants) that suppress the immune system and prevent it from attacking the newly acquired kidney. I am helping do research which attempts to determine why the kidney transplant rejection is taking place in order to prevent it. To do this, we must analyze the spatial quantitative distribution of T cells (immune cells) in human kidneys that are rejected. Over the past two weeks, I have been learning the intricacies of kidney anatomy, working in the lab to do immunohistochemical slide staining, to then have had the opportunity to analyze the cellular tissue on advanced computer software. I also went to a seminar downtown near Penn Station to learn about an imaging software, to help me better use it in the lab. My goal is to learn a ton more, and to make an impact on the research in the lab. Stay tuned for next time where I will share more scientific detail about work in the lab and explanations of the kidney anatomy and cellular immune response reasons for rejection. Hope you are having a good start to the summer!