“Salut” To a New Adventure
23 June 2019
Not many student fellows can say that their journey to Fox Chase Cancer Center began at 2am.
Months ago, I had heard of a summer opportunity from an advisor who recognized an untapped potential I did not quite see at the time. She pointed me towards this program which would teach me all about cancer and research, a combination of something I was really interested in yet something I had zero experience with! However, I took a leap. After visiting and applying, I had got in!
Being states away on the official start date of the program was not going to deter me! I had to get an early start for this new summer adventure! Little did I know; the adventure had begun the moment I woke up to trek towards Fox Chase. A flight, some car rides, and a tiny breakdown later, I had arrived to the destination 10 hours later.
My name is Jessica Mauricette, a rising Junior at the University of Delaware. With a major in Biological Sciences and minors in Medical Diagnostics and Philosophy, I’ve tailored my education to foster my interests in science, medicine, and the humanities. The ability to participate in this student fellowship program is affording me a unique opportunity to broaden my pathway and explore a multitude of new things. Getting to see the basic sciences at the bench and how it is used to then treat at the bedside is the comprehensive experience I did not know I needed until I got here.
An adventure is to “engage in hazardous and exciting activity, especially the exploration of unknown territory.” For me, no better word describes the reality of the lab. After only a couple weeks, I may or may not have contaminated some things, failed a couple of procedures, and been intimidated by how little I really do know! Yet, by just willing to be challenged, I’ve formally and informally learned some of the most advanced concepts, bonded with the other fellows over good and rough days, and have expanded my once narrow field of view!
“Salut” to this new adventure! I’m truly excited to see how much I will grow. I am looking forward to absorbing as much life lessons as I do knowledge.
DNA Fibers, Axes, and Tacos
14 July 2019
I am half way through the UD-FCCC Summer Program, and I could cry. Happy and sad tears. Happy because I seem to finally be getting into the swing of things. I’m navigating through my summer project, taking initiative in the things I want to get out of my time here, holding responsibility, and learning so much in and outside the lab! Sad tears because I only have about 4 more weeks of this!
The first few weeks were all about laying the foundation for my project. The reading of countless papers, demonstration of lab techniques, and (seemingly) bombardment of information was all necessary to equip me with the knowledge and skills to carry out my experiments.
In the lab, I have been tasked to maintain 4 cell lines- two of which are healthy blood cells while the other two are of kidney cancer patients. Through a multi-step process, the cells are treated with various types and concentrations of cancer-related drugs. Some serve to replicate more stress and damage to the cell while others are current treatments on the market. In treating the renal cells and creating varying conditions mimicked in humans, our hope is to visualize, quantify, and interpret the possible effects on DNA replication –a key process in cancer– and its components.
To “see” DNA replication, I’ve been learning a technique called the DNA Fiber Technique. Essentially, we can label distinct parts of DNA, treat it with our different drugs, break the cell down using a solution, tag the DNA with antibodies for fluorescence, and then stretch the DNA on a microscope slide. As a result, we can see our labeled parts of the DNA under a laser microscope and use quantifications to interpret how the drugs affected DNA enzymes, such as polymerase, in replication. Under the microscope we can see nicely defined fibers as seen below.
While I oversimplified the process, these experiments have intricate steps and require time-consuming attention to detail. Just getting viable images for a handful of slides can take up to half a day! Needless to say, I have been busy in the lab!
But outside of Fox Chase, me and the other students in my program have been finding super fun ways to stay entertained! For one, we went axe throwing – yes, that exists! We spent a nice evening getting to know the people we work with and see in the halls at Fox Chase, all while yielding axes! While I was terrible the first few times, I definitely learned and was able to hit it right on the money towards the end of the outing.
In addition to our impromptu gym sessions, picnics, movie nights, and taco nights (my personal favorite), Houston, TraMi, Jontė, and I have done some pretty cool things! We’ve ran a 5K together, explored local restaurants, and have even spent the whole day in the biggest mall I’ve ever been in (King of Prussia). And not to mention, on the 4th of July, we somehow scored free seated tickets to a Jennifer Hudson and Meghan Trainor concert on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway!
In the time I have left, I look forward to uncovering more about my project and myself! While the time is winding down, there is still lots to do and lots to learn.
11 August 2019
With the blink of an eye, summer is coming to an end. Unfortunately, the routine that I have so comfortably adapted to will soon cease. But it is enlightening to reminisce on all that has happened within the span of 2 months: growth.
I remember walking into the lab feeling hesitant and weary about whether I would be of value in the space. I still recall the times I approached complex and daunting new techniques, made a couple of mistakes during a procedure, or felt unsure about my skills. Fast forward some few weeks, and I now feel competent in the lab setting. I know that if I want to pursue benchwork, I possess the potential and ability to soak up completely new information, learn from mishaps, and get the job done by any means necessary.
My research project has come a long way from learning a variety of lab skills like maintaining cell lines, pipetting, image acquisition, etc etc. All of those skills were stepping blocks to mastery of new techniques to evaluate scientific questions. Throughout the summer, I have mainly been using the DNA Fiber Technique which allows for visualization of DNA replication to determine whether novel variants in polymerase genes lead to cancer risk. I have collected innumerous fiber images, gone through a series of quantifications and statistics, and have culminated all of this data in an entire presentation. I feel nervous, but excited, to have something tangible to show for my time in the lab which will be presented at the University of Delaware.
Not only has this program stretched my abilities in the realm of science and research, I’ve also been challenged to network and develop professionally. The opportunities which ranged from new polished headshots and resumes to learning effective communication when presenting to career exploration and peer mentorship have all, in one way or another, made me more equipped as a student and future professional. The balance of “classroom” experience along with “real-life” experience has made this program a positive learning curve.
Looking towards the future, I want to get involved with clinical research once I become a clinician. Now that I have seen a snippet of the basic side of science and its cruciality to medicine, I want to collaborate with the bench as I advance in my career aspirations. With having a medical student in my lab, I’ve gained insight on how to remain research-conscious and intentional throughout different stages of my education because it adds a crucial perspective to treating ailments in people. Lab exposure as an undergraduate is the best thing I could have pursued! Long term, I see myself as a practicing clinician in an academic institution such as Fox Chase that fosters a bridge between science and medicine.
Although I am bidding adieu to Fox Chase, the best take-away is knowing that I have many allies and mentors who have invested in my future. I look forward to keeping in touch with those that have been the most impactful along this journey. And, to the three other fellows who shared this program with me, I am thankful to now have them as friends. As we all head back to college, I’ll always have this shared experience with them.
Until next time, farewell!