The Larson Lab focused on two main goals this summer. Firstly, we were interested in knowing if exosomes (or small vesicles that bud off of many kinds of cells) secreted from ovarian cancer cells interacted with platelets and altered the way in which the platelets behaved. We isolated platelets from blood samples and exosomes from cell culture dishes using differential centrifugation (multiple centrifugation rounds done at increasing speeds). These were allowed to interact with each other either on a tube or on fibrinogen to analyze both platelet activation and platelet spreading. For our second research project, we tested isolated platelets from Native American and Caucasian subjects to see if there were differences in platelet activation levels. Washed platelets from the subjects were exposed to 4 different chemicals (found abundantly in the body) at different concentrations to examine any differences in platelet activity. These experiments are both pertinent to biology: 1) exosomes are poorly understood, but have the capacity of becoming a biomarker for cancer patients, and 2) by determining differences in platelet activity between populations, drug treatments could be more specific to patients.
Realities of Research
Working in a laboratory is as exciting and tedious as it sounds. The first two weeks were the most challenging, since my team and I were all new to the lab, and had to habituate to the fast learning pace. Things became easier as we kept practicing, learning, and perfecting our techniques. My lab partners and I learned how to isolate exosomes, prepare and run a western blot, draw blood, wash platelets, and reinforced our practice in confocal microscope usage and cell culture. Many aspects of research work startled me, such as how long testing 7 blood samples can take, or how efficient a group of 4 individuals can be if there is communication. What surprised me the most however, was the amount of trial and error one has to go through to get consistent and reliable results. We are still analyzing data, so I cannot state whether the results are significant yet, but the data acquired looks promising. Thanks to the Augustana Nursing department and Sanford Research, we were able to make our project work.
This summer I got a glimpse of what the life of a scientist is: it is unpredictable, rewarding (but frustrating at times!), and tedious. I am glad our team consisted of 4 members, and I am certainly grateful we got along well; it made work far easier. Even though everyone did a little bit of everything, we all “specialized” in a particular task. Sarah kept records of the cell cultures, Katelyn imaged platelets, Kirby ran the flow cytometer, and I took care of the platelet test runs with the 4 chemicals. The worst part was the statistical analysis. It is tedious, it is messy, and it is not as…interesting. The overall experience however enhanced my technical and reasoning skills, and taught me more about how to behave, guide, and make suggestions as a leader.