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Day in My Life: Research Intern at Laboratory of Translational Neuroscience, Yenepoya Research Centre

Day in My Life:

Research Intern at Laboratory of Translational Neuroscience, Yenepoya Research Centre

Author: Devangana Rajan

Editor: Nadia Hall

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be an intern at a neuroscience research lab? If you are curious, allow me to offer you a sneak peek into my world as a neuroscience research intern.

My name is Devangana Rajan, a recent graduate from the University of Glasgow, Scotland, holding a BSc (Honors) degree in Neuroscience. Recently, I had the privilege to work as a research intern under the guidance of Dr. Arnab Datta at the Laboratory of Translational Neuroscience, Yenepoya Research Centre, Karnataka, India, for the duration of one month. When I was given this opportunity to document my experience, I realized that my research has no “typical” day; each day presents its own challenges and unpredictabilities. For instance, there could be a technical difficulty causing hindrance in carrying out a planned experiment, forcing us to  work on an alternative plan for the day. Although it sounds challenging, as an aspiring neuroscientist, I feel that this is what makes the research field interesting. Every day, directly or indirectly, we may receive an opportunity to rethink our research project, thereby encouraging us to work on new concepts and explore more about our study field. Through this blog post, I intend to share a snapshot of my journey and the dynamic nature of each day in research.

At the core of the Laboratory of Translational Neuroscience’s work is a profound commitment to understanding the complex mechanism behind ischaemic stroke, which occurs when an artery that brings blood to the brain is blocked. By using a multidisciplinary systems approach, the lab seeks to uncover how unusual variations in protein expression might lead to neurovascular dysfunction. Complementary to this, a pre-clinical stroke model approach (in-vitro and in-vivo rodent models) is adapted to detect the dysregulated proteins at the cellular and tissue levels. Ultimately, the lab aims to discover potential biomarkers that would help in processing neuroprotective strategies in relation to ischaemic stroke. 

As a research intern, my major responsibilities are to observe and to get involved in the experiments carried out at the lab. Every day, I arrive at the institute around 9 a.m., and my day often starts in the mammalian cell culture lab. Mammalian cell culture is a technique by which cells are grown in-vitro, under a favourable artificially-controlled environment. It is a popular technique used to study cell biology in normal and diseased states. For cell culture work, the cells may be derived directly from animal tissue or from an already established cell line. Because our lab is specifically interested in the neuroscience aspect, we focus on culturing brain cell lines - specifically, the neuron and astrocyte.

The in-vitro cell growth requires a complex mixture of nutrients consisting of amino acids, sugars/glucose, growth factors, and more, which is facilitated by the culture medium. Once we culture the cells, we also need to provide it with growing space and fresh nutrients in order to prolong their life and expand their number in the culture. Thus, during the first half of the day, I am usually engaged in observing the cultured cells through an inverted microscope and, if required, refreshing and renewing the culture medium as a way of maintaining them. 

Figure 1

Cell culture work environment

Note. Cell culture is typically done inside a bio safety cabinet, in order to keep the working environment clean and to avoid any biological or airborne contamination.

In scenarios where we are set to initiate an experiment, cells undergo specific treatments. For instance, our lab is currently working on the oxygen-glucose deprivation (OGD) model of ischaemic stroke. Ischaemic stroke is a serious neurological condition in which brain cells are destroyed and die due to lack of oxygen and glucose supply. This is caused by disrupted blood flow to the brain due to clot formation in an artery. To recapitulate this stroke condition in a research setting, we use an in-vitro OGD model. To perform OGD, the cultured brain cells are incubated in a glucose-free culture medium under a deoxygenated atmosphere, such as a hypoxic gas chamber. This ensures that the cultured brain cells are being deprived of oxygen and glucose, and it essentially mimics the ischaemic stroke pathophysiology seen in human brain cells.

Personally, I love learning about pre-clinical models of different neurological disorders. Despite having to consider their complicated theoretical side, I feel that it is fascinating to work on such experiments in a practical research setting.

Figure 2

Apparatus for OGD experiment

Note. Cultured cells are inside the hypoxic gas chamber while hypoxic gas is passed through it. The gas release is regulated by the regulator according to the protocol.

After conducting the cell-based experiments, we shift our focus to the experimental analysis phase. Our laboratory uses a combination of techniques, including biochemical assays, western blotting, and protein mass spectrometry, to detect, quantify, and visualise the levels of different proteins that are of our interest. Ultimately, this helps us better understand the results of our experiments. The detailed analysis illuminates the implications of our experiments, showing us how various treatments administered to the cells influence protein abundance. To put it another way, the analytical phase is akin to “putting the puzzle pieces together”, thereby giving us an idea of the big picture of our research. 

Returning to my rundown of the day, around 1 p.m. is lunch break, when I usually accompany my colleagues to the institute cafe/canteen. We use this time to chat and relax our minds, so that our brains are refreshed before starting the afternoon session work. 

Outside of cell culture work, I also work on statistical data visualisation tasks, which I usually tackle in the latter half of the day, after lunch break. Currently, I am in the process of generating volcano plots using proteomics data in R programming software. A volcano plot is a type of scatter plot whose final visualization resembles an image of a volcanic eruption. 

Figure 3

Volcano Plot

Note. The image shows the R programming software working environment and a volcano plot generated from sample proteomics data.

A volcano plot is a type of scatter plot that displays measures of statistical significance (p values) versus magnitudes of change (fold change). It enables a quick identification of the particular data points, such as genes, that display large magnitudes of change and are also statistically significant. The most upregulated genes are towards the right side, the most downregulated towards the left, and the most statistically significant ones are towards the top. Volcano plots are commonly used to display the results of omics experiments. 

In addition to statistical tasks, I am constantly documenting the various laboratory techniques and processes I encounter. Although it may seem like most of the activities are done individually, it is worth mentioning that there is a lot of collaboration and team effort that happens behind the scenes. Our team includes our guide, PhD scholars, and interns. There is regular communication among us to discuss individual work, thereby exchanging ideas and suggestions as a group. In addition to this, we are encouraged to meet our guide to discuss experimental techniques, results, or  any general queries we may have on our minds. It is the synergy of individual dedication and collaboration that propels our lab’s work. The last thing I do before I am finished for the day is to plan and prepare for the following day.

I hope that this blog post about my experience gave you some insight into what it is like to be a neuroscience research intern. Before we conclude, it is worth noting that different neuroscience laboratories work on different research topics/projects, and they may or may not use the research techniques and procedures I mentioned above. However, I firmly believe that irrespective of the topic, all research internships provide the opportunity to delve deeper into a particular research area and experience the real-world research work environment. 

Figure 4

Laboratory of Translational Neuroscience Research Group

Note. Laboratory of Translational Neuroscience research group. Left to right: 

Dr. Arnab Datta, Manju Babu, Deepthi Ann Thomas, Devangana Rajan, Anaekshi Gogoi.

Non-title photo credits go to Devangana Rajan

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