This summer I worked in a lab that studies the Ts65Dn mouse, which is an animal model for Down syndrome. Previous studies have shown that people with Down syndrome suffer from sleep apnea during the night, which exacerbates some of the cardiovascular and neurological deficits that are already associated with the disease. My role this summer was to collect breathing and metabolic data from an older cohort of this strain as they were exposed to various gases that stressed their respiratory system. Other members of the lab collected data on the muscular and neurological functions of these mice. The overall goal of our work is to identify the causes of the deficits found within this strain of mouse. In the long run we are hopeful that the work we are doing could eventually lead to therapies for people with Down syndrome who suffer from sleep apnea.
Before my summer research started I had already been working in my current lab for about two semesters. I did not really have to adjust to much about the lab besides the fact that I was going in all day, every day. I was conducting my experiments using a barometric plethysmography technique. This technique involves placing mice in a chamber that records several respiratory outputs as air is pumped into and out of the chamber. Even though I was familiar with the technique that I used to collect breathing data, there were a few calibration issues that required some troubleshooting when I first began collection. Once those issues were fixed data collection went smoothly. In addition to conducting plethysmography experiments, I was working with the rest of my lab to harvest and freeze organs that were dissected from our mice in order to look at the specific proteins related to muscle function. We are currently working through analyzing and interpreting our data, but so far have found interesting results that lead us to believe that there is a neurological component that is modulating the deficits found in the Ts65Dn mouse.
Over the course of my summer, I realized that the life of a scientist varies every day. I was on a strict schedule during plethymosgraphy data collection because the mice needed to be tested during specific hours and within days of each other in order to attain accurate results. On the days that I was helping with harvesting and freezing organs, the work moved quickly because organs needed to be removed in a timely fashion in order for them to be viable for further testing. Once all of our mice were euthanized the work calmed down a bit and I was able to take my time analyzing my data, running stats and working through interpretation of statistical outputs. I really enjoyed watching the older members of our lab work through their experiments. I have learned a lot from them and it is helpful to be able to see what my life could look like if I continue down this path. I did struggle a bit at first with learning new techniques and how to run some statistical tests, but having to work through issues and figure those things out for myself has already made me a better scientist. I think that learning how to troubleshoot and work through experimental/statistical/interpretational issues on my own has been the most valuable part of my summer research experience.