This summer I have had the unique opportunity to work on a project that involves human heart tissue, an opportunity provided to me by the American Physiological Society and the Campbell Muscle Lab at The University of Kentucky. My project focused on heart failure, a topic that is vital to many Americans, in fact, the American Heart Association showed that approximately 5.7 million adults in the United States suffer from heart failure. My study looked specifically at the varying amounts of collagen based on sex and heart failure status. It has been researched and shown that there is an increase in fibrosis when a patient has heart failure. Fibrosis is a term that describes tough fibers that replace damaged cardiac tissue in a process known as cardiac remodeling; an example of fibrosis is collagen, the protein that we stained for. The unique part to this study is the comparison of men and women, regarding the amount of collagen present in the heart tissue. This idea stems from a previous experiment conducted in the lab that used a process called Nanostring to determine the expression of genes related to heart disease and failure in both failing and non-failing human hearts. This study showed that there were genes related to collagen that had sex specific differences. Although the experiment might not be revolutionary, it will aid in bridging the gap that currently exists in research regarding the physiological difference between men and women. Although, we do not have enough data to draw conclusions yet, we are already thinking about future directions for our project!
The Realities of Research
Research is an imperfect process to say the least, and in my opinion that is what makes it wonderful. Things do not always go as anticipated when conducting research. It might not always yield the expected results, but it was at the very least a learning experience. One of the largest realities I had to face was that just because a protocol is well established does not mean that it is easy to learn, or unalterable. The protocol for my experiment is one that is well established and has been for many years. That would ideally make the project simple, right? Wrong. At the beginning, there were numerous problems, most associated with a steep learning curve. Part of my job is to cut tissue, and there were many rat heart samples that had to be cut before I could begin working with human tissue. Once the cutting was mastered, there was still a problem with the staining aspect of the protocol. The protocol written seemed clear, but the results of the stains were not up to par. So, we worked to adjust the protocol in order to obtain samples that were suitable enough to analyze. This steep learning curve was rough, but it made for a great application of problem solving skills.
The Daily Life of a Scientist
The daily life of a scientist is quite interesting, especially in my lab. Sometimes the day to day life of a scientist can be a little monotonous. I would come in and cut the tissue, stain the tissue, and image the samples, but just when things were getting a little boring, we would get a call on what we call the bat phone. The bat phone rings whenever there is a heart transplant or an organ donor, who is unable to donate his or her heart. We are then able to take the heart and store it for future research for our lab or any other that wants to use human samples. We are on call 24/7 and there are times where I must leave an experiment to collect a heart. Although this seemed inconvenient at times, such as 2 AM, it was great to have such a unique opportunity. The daily life of a scientist in the Campbell Muscle Lab is exciting, challenging, and unique to say the least.
- Mozaffarian, Benjamin, Go, Arnett, Blaha, Cushman, . . . Turner. (2016). Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2016 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association. Circulation, 133(4), E38-E360.