Debbie Knight

A Day in the Life: November 2, 2012

In A Day in the Life, research log on November 2, 2012 at 12:57 pm

From time to time, I will give a glimpse into the “glamorous” life of a research associate and talk about what I’m doing in the lab. These entries I will call “A Day in the Life…” 

Yesterday’s experiment  didn’t go so well.

And it wasn’t even really my experiment. My lab was helping out a newly-hired pathologist get some data that he could possibly use in a grant proposal.

We treated some cultured cells (specifically ones that line blood vessels called endothelial cells) with a potential cancer drug. This drug may work to treat brain tumors in two ways — directly on the tumor cells and on the blood vessels that supply nutrients and oxygen to them. We treated with several doses of the drug for different amounts of time. We stained the cells for a couple of things that would show us if the drug concentrations were toxic to the cells.

To look at those markers, we used an instrument called a  flow cytometer. This machine slurps up the cells floating in a buffer solution and marches them single file past a laser beam and a series of sensors. One of those sensors counts the cells. Ideally we would count 10,000 cells, but the samples were taking a long time to run. We settled on counting only 5,000 cells — more than enough to get valuable information from the other sensors.

Some samples took only a couple of minutes.

Not ideal, but I could live with that.

But some samples took a lot longer. And some never reached the 5,000 cell mark. For example, the cytometer had only counted 3,375 cells in six minutes and 28 seconds in this particular sample (the highest dose of the drug). Argh!

It was very frustrating.

It  was also a little boring watching the samples run.

To keep myself busy (and entertained), I read a journal article, perused the school newspaper, outlined experiments that I needed to do, doodled, took some photos with my cell phone for this blog, worked on a crossword puzzle, checked my cell phone, crunched the results that slowly trickled in, etc.  I also used the data as a Rorschach test (of sorts), trying to see if I could “see” anything in the data. 

Rorschach test? What do YOU see?

The first set of samples (of a total of six sets) took two hours to run. This was all at top speed on the cytometer, mind you. The proverbial pedal was to the metal.

It was then I made an “executive decision” to run only two of the three samples per treatment. This, I hoped, would give me adequate data.  And I wouldn’t be running my samples, one at a time, manually for 12 hours straight.

It only took half that time!




No lunch. No break.

Sometimes that is a day in my life.


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