Since I’ve started working here, I’ve been slowly gaining the trust and confidence of my Principal Investigator, Christine Denny, and am now juggling roughly 4 projects. Over the course of the past few weeks, I have gained a number of technical skills, including intraperitoneal (IP) injection of mice; what’s more, I learned to do so on notoriously fidgety C57BL/6 mice. I was uncertain and fumbling at first, but with the aid of my colleagues, I am now teaching others in the lab how to make a drug and administer an IP injection. I have transitioned the responsibility of taking care of all of the breeding lines (as well as their genotyping) in the animal room to the technician. This gives me more time to focus on my behavioral experiments, perfusions, surgery, etc., and finally putting my data together.
The aforementioned four projects all span slightly different realms of neuroscience that all interest me tremendously. The first is one that I had been working on since I first started in January, which looks at pattern separation and how it differs in the brain from 6 month old, 1 year old, or 2 year old mice. The last time I looked at the data, the difference between the groups in the number of neurons in a particular brain region in the hippocampus was highly significant. Another two projects involve ketamine, a fast-acting antidepressant that we are using to determine its prophylactic effects to prevent the onset of stress disorders (such as PTSD in humans). I am working with Rebecca to refine her project to be re-submitted to the journal she originally submitted to, but the other project is completely mine, which is asking whether the NR2B subunit of the NMDA receptor in the brain is necessary for ketamine to work as an antidepressant.
The final project is one I am conducting with Jennifer, the post-doc, which utilizes our AD mouse model. Since we are piloting studies, we are running a number of behavioral tests to get a baseline reading of anxiety and depressive-like behavior in these mice. We are planning to test their short-term and long-term memory in a few weeks, and finally stain their brains for plaques and tangles in order to see where the memory deficits in their brains occur.
The lab atmosphere invigorates the constant work being accomplished, which I mentioned in my previous report. A few weeks ago, a pivotal day for Christine came when an inspector from the NIH—which awarded her the prestigious Early Independence Award—came to purvey the lab. He was a curious man, asking all of the lab members a number of questions ranging from hard data to everyday tasks and overall impressions. Though Christine and those who had been in the lab longer than me were nervous to be the main representatives of the lab, they had no reason to be anxious, as the truth spoke for itself. I listened and chimed in as we praised Christine’s incredible organization, her intelligence and humor, as well as her encouragement of new project ideas from us undergraduates. We were able to speak knowledgeably about our projects, and how each component of the tasks for that day fit into the larger picture.
As I look ahead to the coming weeks, I plan to continue to help Jennifer with conducting behavior on the AD mice to determine whether they demonstrate a deficit in anxiety or depressive-like behaviors. I also plan to finish up with imaging the slides for my pattern separation mice, and deciding whether to run another cohort to get even more robust, defined data. Of course, my main project involving the NR2B subunit and its importance in the effects of ketamine will still be moving swiftly forward. Most excitingly, I shall begin working with Rebecca to improve her data with more evidence of the resilience effects of ketamine, to be submitted to a major journal. We met today, and the prospects are exciting; I may, should I see these experiments through, become second author on the paper.
Overall, I still receive praise for my work ethic and determination, but I still wish to improve, and have the sense that there is a great deal to learn. I see how successful an experiment can be, but also how it can go awry. I read the reviewer’s comments to Rebecca’s paper, and realized how methodical and holistic one must be to prove your data is significant. Each day, I remind myself that organization, careful precision, and keeping up with current information about this growing field are integral in ensuring that my ideas are innovative and fruitful.