This past weekend, I spent Saturday morning at the Cambridge River Festival: weather was gorgeous, kettle corn was hot, and people were really enjoying the free samples of Burt's Bees, Luna Bars and Dunkin Donuts Iced Coffee. On Sunday, some of the members of the BE REU program went downtown to Boston Gardens and had a leisurely ride in the Swan boats before heading off to dim sum at a really crowded restaurant in Chinatown: it was fantastic! We spent about two hours wandering through Newbury Street (full of really high end clothing stores) before finally ending up back at MIT.
On Tuesday, I was also able to meet with a friend of a friend (a native Bostonian) who showed me around Fenway Park and the neighborhood surrounding Boston University. He has promised to take me to visit the Italian part of Boston, as well as his hometown: I'm so glad to have friends that connect me to others all around the country!
Yesterday, I went to the MIT Museum: there were some really great robot exhibits that were there (if you are thinking of visiting Boston). Today I'll actually be switching rooms: when I arrived, I shared a room, but they were able to find me a single room on the fourth floor. The bed is lofted and there are no stairs, so I'm going to develop some killer upper arm muscles by the time I leave here.
As far as lab goes, I'm really enjoying the work I'm doing: I work from about 9-7 weekdays, and afternoons on weekends: it is a lot of time, but I'm really enjoying what I do. Speaking of, here's a better summary:
The post-doc that I'm working for (Alexandria) did her doctoral thesis on using the liver scaffolding that the Griffith lab has worked with to develop a model of chronic infection with the hepatitis B virus: she cultured liver cells (primary cells that had been isolated from a rat) and transfected them with the receptor gene, a membrane receptor called duck carboxypeptidase D (rat livers don't have the receptor for hepatitis B infections, but ducks and people do...since ducks aren't exactly an efficient clinical model, Alexandria used rat cells transfected with this receptor gene instead). This effectively makes the rat liver cells more like human cells, and along with the bioreactor scaffolds, she created a much more human-like model for drug testing and simply improving the scientific knowledge on hepatits B infections.
So, this receptor, duck carboxypeptidase D (DCPD) is a cell receptor protein (peptide) that is an enzyme (-ase) that cleaves proteins at the carboxy-terminus (ends with COOH; carbon-oxygen-oxygen-hydro
To insert DCPD into rat cells, Alexandria used adenoviruses, a type of virus that has most of the dangerous genes taken out and the genes of interest put back in...however, treatment with adenoviruses is still quite potent and although the potential for using adenoviruses as a vector for gene therapy is very high, human subjects have died during clinical trials, thus leading to a temporary stall in gene therapy research.
When Alexandria was transfecting these rat cells with DCPD, she noticed that, unlike those control cells infected with a virus with no receptor or genetic material, many more of the cells survived. So, my job this summer is to investigate how and to what extent DCPD prevents cell death in liver cells as well as flesh out applications for this novel approach in gene therapy.
So, my days in lab are spent working with cell culture of rat cells transfected with DCPD (as well as the control vectors), and attempting to optimize our measurements of apoptosis using a fluorescent detection system. As time goes on, I will most likely be testing different time points for apoptosis, as well as other variables involved with preventing cell death in culture.