Learning in the Lab

Over the last few weeks I have become comfortable and familiar with my work environment in the Columbia Irving Medical Center. It is now a routine each morning to walk 20 blocks from my apartment in New York, go into the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons building, go up to the 15th floor and begin with my work, looking at kidney transplant rejection in the department of pathology and cell biology. My mentor is kind and helpful and wants very much for me to learn as much as I can while being helpful to her. This has created a very positive experience for me in the lab, and has enabled me to explore many opportunities to learn more.

In the pathology lab, I have learned a great deal about tissue staining and cellular imaging, both of which I knew very little about prior to my internship. While preparing for my internship, I read about kidney anatomy and function, but I now understand the microscopic level of biopsy samples and how to properly decipher cellular images. Just recently, my week was spent doing a multi-day staining lab procedure. The lab process was a three day process of intubation, buffer washings, and rinsing of different chemicals. The goal of the process was to do a multiplex “stain” where antibodies were used to stain particular cell tissue, so that the different dyes could identify different cell types clearly under a microscope. For example, if there can be 6 different dyes on one kidney biopsy tissue cross section, then we stained with an antibody for different types of T-cells, B-cells (both lymphocyte immune cells), macrophages, nuclear stain (DAPI). In simple terms: we want to see if the kidney was attacked by the immune system. When having the antibody bind to the antigen on different immune cells, it allows us to see under a microscope if immune cells are all over a kidney.

Normally, if the body has a foreign body, it is great for the immune system to attack the pathogen or cancerous cell and try to destroy it, but in the case of a kidney transplant, it is actually terrible. We want a patient’s body to accept the kidney transplant as something that’s trying to help. After the staining, the slide can then be looked at under a microscope, images are taken and then these images are analyzed further on advanced biotechnological software to count cell types electronically. By looking at the types of immune cells, their spatial orientation and the quantitative amount in certain areas, it is possible to determine how to better prevent kidney transplant rejection.

My work at the Irving Medical Center with the help of “World of Work”, is different from university life in an exciting way. In my course study at school, it’s easy to get lost in a book and lose sight of the larger purpose and real benefit to serving the medical field. In other words, potentially lose sight of how you can impact the health of people in the real world. This experience is making the connection of scientific study to improving the health of patients very clear. It is strengthening my motivation to work in the medical field and to continue to pursue studies in science. I have now seen the direct impact that medical professions have on individual people’s lives. Our analysis is directly helping current patients as well as helping to further the study of successful kidney transplantation.

My work at Columbia is certainly going to help to improve my skills and confidence in the laboratories at Brandeis. It has also helped to strengthen my analytical and reasoning skills over the summer. So far, I’ve had a lot of fun and learning along the way!

Arielle Leeman, 2022

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