Seizing serendipity during a European internship

Studying abroad is a popular experience for undergraduates and many students try to take advantage of this opportunity. Being an international student at heart, I was also interested in exploring the world; however, my coursework made it practically impossible to go abroad with the study programs that my college offered. I did not just want to go traveling though, I wanted to invest my time while creating new experiences for myself, and so it occurred to me to independently seek an international research internship abroad. I started searching for the opportunities and with some luck involved I discovered the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). The institute actually consists of a large number of member states in Europe including Germany, France, UK, and even, somehow, Australia.

We were completely soaked, but we had to get back. Much to our surprise we got a ride back up to the castle.

We were completely soaked, but we had to get back. Much to our surprise we got a ride back up to the castle.

After a series of e-mails and a phone interview I ended up joining the group of Dr. Christian Haering whose lab is studying the condensin protein complex in yeast. Condensin protein complex does pretty much what you would expect; it condenses and organizes chromosomes together but also has other roles, like regulating gene expression. The project seemed exciting to me, and it also meant that I would be able to spend my summer in Heidelberg, Germany, while learning something new. One of my best college friends also applied to the institute and ended up being accepted to a different lab.

The campus was located in a serene location on top of the hill, which required a healthy hike through the forest in the morning. A lot of things about this place were special: there was a building with two floors spiraling upwards in a double helix, a cafeteria chef with a mustache in a style of a Prussian soldier singing and greeting with “Bonjour!” beer Fridays organized by different labs, journal clubs and coffee breaks with a beautiful spectrum of accents discussing science.

In my research, I worked with fission yeast and tried to isolate condensin and other proteins that might interact with it on some level. I learned new techniques of growing yeast, isolating protein with magnetic nanobeads, and performing Western blots to mention a few. Although I did end up working very long hours during the week, Friday nights meant one thing: my friend and I were literally running to catch a train. We would come to work with packed backpacks and a vague idea of where we wanted to go. Very often we were in the hands of serendipity, which provided opportunities that would be difficult to plan out.

IMG_3695_stitch cc sat60 us. Hohenzollern in thunderstormTo give an overview of one weekend, we were able to visit Frankfurt, Cologne, Bonn, and a tiny city St. Goar on the Rhine River. Almost nearly missing a series of trains but always making it with half-a-minute to spare, we finally missed the connecting train in Frankfurt by 20 seconds and got stuck there. As a result, we arrived in Cologne at 6 a.m., with a stunning view of Cologne’s gothic cathedral filling most of the huge window of the train station. By midday we moved on to Bonn because it was a birthplace of Beethoven. If you ask me how we ended up in the tiny city of St. Goar, I do not know. In St. Goar, by chance we learned that they had closed the road along the Rhine to give bicycles free reign, and so we rented bikes to participate in the procession with other bicyclists. On the way, we climbed up to three castles overlooking the Rhine, and arrived back to our town late at night to get some sleep before work. In a similar manner, we traveled to Switzerland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and various cities in Germany.

The experience in Europe was rich with emotions and stories: from the Foreigner performance in Mannheim to the Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” in St. Chapelle in Paris, from sleeping at the train station to being soaked under rain in the attempt to climb a mountain with a castle on top.

I advise undergraduates to actively seek such research and travel opportunities because very few things make you feel so alive like learning and traveling.

Alex Komin, a first-year PhD student in Kalina Hristova’s lab in Materials Science and Engineering Department, is working on new methods to deliver drugs to the brain.

INBT Annual Symposium – Posters Wanted

Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology seeks poster presenters from ALL DIVISIONS for its May 17 annual symposium at Shriver Hall. INBT is a multidisciplinary entity with faculty members in every division at JHU. Therefore, we encourage presenters from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Applied Physics Lab and the Whiting School of Engineering to submit titles. Previously presented titles are acceptable. Prizes are awarded to top poster presenters.  For a complete agenda of speakers and to register go to http://ow.ly/kKFOa

Undergraduate T-shirt Contest Winners

INBT would like to send a congrats to the co-winners in the undergraduate T-shirt contest.  They are Maani Archang and Paul Masih Das!  Thanks so much for participating and great job on your design. We would like to thank everyone that participated either in submitting a design or voting.

International Opportunity – Information Session

Exciting opportunity to tackle global engineering challenges!!!!

Applications are now being accepted for Global Engineering Innovation projects designed to give Johns Hopkins’ graduate students and select undergraduates an opportunity to investigate and tackle engineering challenges in the developing world (Arusha,Tanzania). Undergraduate and graduate opportunities are available. Application deadline is April 5, 2013.  Tobe Madu, Nathan Nicholes and Onat Yilmaz will be holding an info session to explain more and answer questions:

When: March 27, 2013, 6.30 pm

Where: New Engineering Building Rm G40

Please RSVP, tmadu1@jhu.edu, so that we have an idea of how much pizza to order (if you do not remember to RSVP you are still welcome to come)

Check out the following link for additional information:

http://inbt.jhu.edu/blog/2012/03/12/inbt-obtains-funding-for-engineering-and-science-missions/

 

Spring nano-bio mini-symposium set for April 3

Catch up on the latest research happening in Johns Hopkins University labs working in nanobiotechnology, the physics of cancer and cancer nanotech at INBT’s spring mini-symposium Wednesday, April 3 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Leverings’s Great Hall on the Homewood campus.

AT AT GLANCE- INBT new signSMALL

Mini-symposiums are organized in the spring and fall by student leaders in the Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology, the Engineering in Oncology Center and the Center of Cancer Nanotechnology Excellence. They are a means of showcasing current work, learning from guest speakers and facilitating communication and collaboration among affiliated laboratories. This event is open to the entire Johns Hopkins Community. Save the date!

The agenda is as follows:

  • 9:00 am ~ 9:10 am Welcome speech Denis Wirtz, PhD, Director of Johns Hopkins Physical Science Oncology Center (PS-OC)
  • 9:10 am ~ 9:40 am “Role of ion channels and aquaporins in cancer cell migration in confined microenvironments” Kimberly M. Stroka, PhD, Postdoc fellow (PS-OC) Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Johns Hopkins University
  • 9:40 am ~ 10:10 am “TBD” Helena Zec, Graduate student (CCNE) Department of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University
  • 10:10 am ~ 10:40 am “Single-cell protein profiling to study cancer cell heterogeneity” Jonathan Chen, Graduate student (PS-OC) Department of Biomedical Engineering, Yale University
  • 10:40 am ~ 11:30 am “Synthetic cell biology: total synthesis of cellular functions” Takanari Inoue, PhD, Assistant professor Department of Cell Biology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
  • 11:30 am ~ 11:40 am Coffee Break
  • 11:40 am ~ 12:10 pm “TBD” Yu-Ja Huang, Graduate student (PS-OC) Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University
  • 12:10 pm ~ 1:00 pm “Infections, Chronic Inflammation, and Prostate Cancer” Karen Sandell Sfanos, PhD, Assistant professor Department of Pathology, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
  • 1:00 pm ~ 1:30 pm “Development of CEST liposomes for monitoring nanoparticle-based cancer therapies using MRI” Tao Yu, Graduate student (CCNE) Department of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University

INBT Spring mini-symposium flyer

INBT Undergraduate T-shirt design contest!

All INBT undergraduates are invited to submit a design for the t-shirt design contest. Submission deadline is Friday March 1st.  For detailed information, please contact the undergraduate team lead in your lab. Let the contest begin!

 

SAVE the DATE : Spring Mini-Symposium

INBT’s two centers (CCNE & PSOC) will be hosting the student -run mini symposium this Spring on April 3rd.  The host this year are Wei-chien Hung and Wei-Chiang Chen.

Communication for Scientist and Engineers Course

Registration now open for INBT course “Communication for Scientist and Engineers”.  Please contact Mary Spiro at mspiro@jhu.edu for more information.  Course will be held in early June.

New Trainees with INBT–Orientation

There will be a new trainee orientation at 10 am on January 23 in NEB 170. This orientation is to give an overview of the requirements of the INBT NanoBio Training program.  

INBT engineers coax stem cells to diversify

Growing new blood vessels in the lab is a tough challenge, but a Johns Hopkins engineering team has solved a major stumbling block: how to prod stem cells to become two different types of tissue that are needed to build tiny networks of veins and arteries.

The team’s solution is detailed in an article appearing in the January 2013 print edition of the journal Cardiovascular Research. The article also was published recently in the journal’s online edition. The work is important because networks of new blood vessels, assembled in the lab for transplanting into patients, could be a boon to people whose circulatory systems have been damaged by heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses.

blood-vessel-3-72

Illustration by Maureen Wanjare

“That’s our long-term goal—to give doctors a new tool to treat patients who have problems in the pipelines that carry blood through their bodies,” said Sharon Gerecht, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering who led the research team. “Finding out how to steer these stem cells into becoming critical building blocks to make these blood vessel networks is an important step.”

In the new research paper, the Gerecht team focused on vascular smooth muscle cells, which are found within the walls of blood vessels. Two types have been identified: synthetic smooth muscle cells, which migrate through the surrounding tissue, continue to divide and help support the newly formed blood vessels; and contractile smooth muscles cells, which remain in place, stabilize the growth of new blood vessels and help them maintain proper blood pressure.

To produce these smooth muscle cells, Gerecht’s lab has been experimenting with both National Institutes of Health-approved human embryonic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells. The induced pluripotent stem cells are adult cells that have been genetically reprogrammed to act like embryonic stem cells. Stem cells are used in this research because they possess the potential to transform into specific types of cells needed by particular organs within the body.

In an earlier study supervised by Gerecht, her team was able to coax stem cells to become a type of tissue that resembled smooth muscle cells but didn’t quite behave properly. In the new experiments, the researchers tried adding various concentrations of growth factor and serum to the previous cells. Growth factor is the “food’ that the cells consume; serum is a liquid component that contains blood cells.

“When we added more of the growth factor and serum, the stem cells turned into synthetic smooth muscle cells,” Gerecht said. “When we provided a much smaller amount of these materials, they became contractile smooth muscles cells.”

This ability to control the type of smooth muscle cells formed in the lab could be critical in developing new blood vessel networks, she said. “When we’re building a pipeline to carry blood, you need the contractile cells to provide structure and stability,” she added. “But in working with very small blood vessels, the migrating synthetic cells can be more useful.”

In cancer, small blood vessels are formed to nourish the growing tumor. The current work could also help researchers understand how blood vessels are stabilized in tumors, which could be useful in the treatment of cancer.

“We still have a lot more research to do before we can build complete new blood vessel networks in the lab,” Gerecht said, “but our progress in controlling the fate of these stem cells appears to be a big step in the right direction.”

In addition to her faculty appointment with Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering, Gerecht is affiliated with the university’s Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) and the Johns Hopkins Engineering in Oncology Center.

The lead author of the new Cardiovascular Research paper is Maureen Wanjare, a doctoral student in Gerecht’s lab who is supported both by the INBT, through a National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship, and by the NIH. Coauthors of the study are Gerecht and Frederick Kuo, who participated in the research as an undergraduate majoring in chemical and biomolecular engineering. The human induced pluripotent stem cells used in the study were provided by Linzhao Cheng, a hematology professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

This research was supported by an American Heart Association Scientist Development Grant and NIH grant R01HL107938.

Original press release can be found here.