My own personal corner of the lab
I just finished the first week of my internship at UC San Diego’s School of Medicine. Thanks to my WOW fellowship, I’ll be here all summer helping to modify an existing treatment for neuroblastoma. According to the American Cancer Society, neuroblastoma is a cancer of the nerve cells that affects young children; it is the most prevalent form of cancer in babies . As my supervisor explained to me on my first day of work, neuroblastoma is especially horrible because the current treatments are far from ideal. At present, there is a very high relapse rate in patients who have been “cured” of neuroblastoma; I was shocked to hear that there is a 60-70% failure rate from remission.
Check out this site for some heartbreaking, and hopeful, patient stories that humanize this horrible illness.
Once in remission, patients often receive an immunotherapy treatment called ch.14.18 (which, fun fact, was pioneered by my lab’s PI!). Ch.14.18 is an antibody that attacks the GD2 antigen present on neuroblastoma cells. However, I learned that a major problem is that the antigens are also present on nerve cells; therefore, this treatment is painful. Additionally, I was saddened to hear that even with the immunotherapy, there is a low 4-year survival rate at about only 55%. I will be conducting research to see whether adding an experimental compound to the ch.14.18 treatment improves its efficacy. While this may seem like a simple goal, testing this hypothesis will require numerous complex and time-consuming experiments, many of which have never been done before.
This week I conducted my first experiment. While I did not obtain great data, I learned a lot about the process of cancer research, which I am finding to be an art as much as an exact science. I was introduced to a variety of techniques I will be using throughout the summer, most importantly, cell culture. In order to conduct my experiments, I need tumor cells to treat, so this week I learned about maintaining human tumor cell lines in vitro (meaning, in the lab). Cells are quite finicky about the conditions they require for growth, and are also high maintenance, requiring new media every couple of days (a process known as “feeding”) as well as “splitting” when the growth becomes too dense. Check out this link for more information on cell culture.
I conducted a preliminary experiment looking at the effects of two different antibodies, as well as the experimental compound, on a human neuroblastoma cell line. Already on day two I was given the freedom to design my own experiment, as far as picking my controls and determining the concentrations of the compounds that I added to my cells. Today I collected and analyzed the data, which deviated from my expectations, so I will be re-doing the experiment next week. I learned an important lesson: research (often) doesn’t go as planned, and as a newbie, mistakes are practically unavoidable.
I’m excited to learn more about the research process this summer and to become adept at the techniques I’ve been introduced to. Also, as a pre-vet student, this internship provides an excellent opportunity to see how I like biomedical research, as lately I’ve been thinking about non-clinical aspects of veterinary medicine that might interest me. All in all, I am excited to forge ahead with my research and hopefully make my own small contribution to this very important field.
Michelle Oberman, ’16 (Dec)