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Unusual additions to the equipment in the Fulga lab

Every year, the WIMM plays host to students at varying stages in their careers who are keen to get an insight into life in the lab and, of course, to find out what scientists are REALLY like. In the latest in our series of posts written by students who undertake placements at the Institute, Eva Masmanian, a second year medical student on a Wellcome Trust Scholarship, tells us about her experiences working in Tatjana Sauka-Spengler’s lab.

When I first arrived at the Sauka-Spengler lab I was greeted by a lengthy scientific paper stuck to the door, labelled with a sign that stated it was “Essential reading!” However, on further inspection, the text in the paper consisted solely of the word ‘chicken’. And with this realisation, I was introduced to the lab’s sense of humour.

One thing I loved about working in the lab was that while everyone takes their work very seriously, they also have a great lighthearted sense of humour – and this is not restricted to the Sauka-Spengler lab. Indeed, the Fulga lab next door has ‘Minions’ from the film Despicable Me hanging from the ceiling to greet newcomers.

My four-month long project involved working with zebrafish, which have the incredible ability to regenerate their hearts after injury. The project itself is a collaboration between my supervisor, Dr. Filipa Simões, and Amy Kenyon, a PhD student. We focused on studying the zebrafish immune response during heart regeneration, with the idea that in the future therapies that involve the immune system may be used to improve cardiac function after heart attacks in humans.

This has never been studied in detail before, and so every piece of data we collected was new and exciting. While I had to learn a lot of new techniques very quickly, and a lot of days were long and tiring, the feeling of producing data that could be directly useful in medicine was very gratifying.

Furthermore, the support I received both from Filipa and Tatjana was invaluable, and Filipa’s fantastic teaching ensured that my learning extended way beyond what was required for my project.

Technology is advancing rapidly to increase the rate of progress in research, and the state-of-the-art facilities in the WIMM enabled me to produce a lot of data in a relatively short amount of time. As one postdoc said to me, “If I was doing what you’re doing now when I was your age, it would have taken me at least a year!”

Another striking thing was the warm sense of community within the lab. On one particularly stressful day I had to perform a protocol which involved several hours in the 4°C room (i.e. I was being refrigerated). I later returned to my locker and found a chocolate bar taped to it with a note that read “Chin up, chuck!”

I have since realised that sweets and cake play a very large role in the life of a scientist. Whenever there was a notable occasion e.g. somebody’s birthday in the lab, or someone was leaving, there would always be cake time in the cafeteria. During lab meetings (twice a week) there would more cake and sweet treats. And in between all of these treat times, there would usually be cake gatherings to eat the leftover cake from the time before. Perhaps there is a link between having a passion for science and having a sweet tooth?

My time at the WIMM has given me real insight into what doing research is like. It is certainly not monotonous! Some days may be 9 ‘til 5, but others may be 9 ‘til 3, or 9 ‘til 9. But the hours and effort you put in are fuelled by your own curiosity, and I have learnt that results can always teach you something – even if they weren’t what you were expecting.

You can read more about the research ongoing in the Sauka-Spengler lab on their blog.

Post edited by Lauren Howson and Bryony Graham.