In the laboratory this summer, I studied one of the myriads of cell responses that occur in the spinal cord post-injury. The cells that I studied were microglia, which play a role in cleaning up debris and acting as an immune response. It has been found that post-SCI (spinal cord injury) female mice have better functional recovery than their male counterparts. Scientists studying SCI’s are currently researching possible causes for this difference in healing. My project focused on whether male or female mice have a higher microglia response post injury. The tissue I analyzed was collected from male and female mice 42 days post-moderate SCI. I first had to stain the spinal cord sections with eriochrome cyanine, which shows the degree of degeneration the spinal cord underwent post injury. Immunohistochemistry was then performed on the tissue, which is a form of staining that binds fluorescent antibodies to the cells you are looking for. Because of the fluorescence that is attached to the cell, you can then use light to illuminate the microglia and then image the cells. To get the most accurate comparison, I selected a portion of the spinal cord that I could identify in every animal and quantified the cells in just that area. My data concluded that female mice have significantly (p: .0187) less microglia.
Realities of Research
This was my first time taking part in research in a professional lab setting and there were a few things that surprised me, but for the most part I knew relatively what I was getting into. I think the most surprising thing was that there was a lot of sitting around and waiting for either results or for my slides to dry. As a student that works better when pressurized, I feel that this aspect will be the biggest barrier keeping me from going into a research career. There were also a lot of issues that I had with the tissue itself and aspects that hindered my ability to analyze my results.
My responsibilities changed from day to day, whether I was sitting at a desk and reading for hours straight or doing a stain. I also spent a lot of time learning about lab equipment and how to safely complete an experiment. I think the best part was when I was able to work by myself and take ownership of my own project. However, there were many times that I was lost or confused and really needed help. The worst part of this research was all of the down time that I had. Working as a lab team was very interesting because there were always people around that had something interesting to contribute to my project. However, there were also issues with finding the specific person that could help you with a part of your project.