In the second week of the winter school holidays, I was lucky enough to spend four days participating in work experience at the Griffith University Institute for Glycomics. The Institute, which resides at Griffith University's Gold Coast Campus, focusses on 'fighting diseases of a global impact' with a special focus on how glycomics (the study of sugars) can be used to better understand, prevent, and treat such diseases.
During my time at the Institute, I had the opportunity to experience a variety of the disciplines which operate across the multitude of laboratories located there. I was able to work one-on-one with professors, researchers, and students, learning about the work that they do and how it is helping us as a society to make progress towards a safer future. Amongst the numerous incredible experiences that I had during the week was the opportunity to work hands-on in the PC2 (Physical Containment Level 2) Microbiology Laboratory, creating blood agar plates and preparing bacterial cultures for incubation. I learnt about the careful process of growing cell lines for experimentation, with cultures needing to be tended to daily and frequently separated into new containers to allow their continued division and healthy growth. I also learnt about bacterial pathogenesis (the process by which bacteria infect and cause disease in a host) and to create E. Coli samples for experimentation. I observed under the microscope a multitude of primary (living cells directly from a donor) and secondary (usually immortal cancer cell lines collected from an existing culture, not directly from a donor) cell lines from a variety different species. These cell lines are used at the Institute to test the efficacy of new, experimental treatments for a plethora of diseases.
Did you know that some cell lines come from a single donor and are grown and distributed for use in research world-wide? A great example of this is Henrietta Lacks, whose cells became the first immortal cell line (HeLa) in 1951 and are still used globally today.
Later in the week, I visited the PC2 Virology Laboratory and learnt about ethical considerations when taking primary cell samples from human donors, in this case involving the extraction of human airway epithelial basal cells from the nose. While here, I was able to observe ciliary beating (the beating of the cilia to push mucus down the nasal tract, see the video link below) in these cells, a truly amazing sight which reminded me that I am made up of millions of microscopic living organisms. Just as incredible was seeing the erratic and incoherent movement of this same cell type when infected with an upper respiratory virus. Before the week was through, I visited the Advanced Mass Spectrometry Facility and learnt about the processes and machinery involved in breaking apart and measuring the mass to charge ratio of glycomes to determine the structure of these compounds. I was amazed to learn about how this knowledge is applied to fighting cancer by using sugars to signal to the body's immune system that the cancer is a threat, and subsequently triggering an immune reaction to the cancer.
I feel truly privileged to have been able to have this experience, and do not doubt that I will take the knowledge, experience, and inspiration that I have gained with me into the future. I encourage you all to take opportunities, whenever you can, to experience what you are truly passionate about.
Ciliary Beating Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TIkmmwpY5Y