Science and Technology
By Michael Gerber, Contributing Writer
On average, a kidney transplant patient lives 12 to 20 years post-surgery. Currently, pediatric transplant research is focused on creating immunosuppressive medication to be administered following a transplant. This past summer, I worked in a pediatric transplant research lab for nephrology, at Boston Children’s Hospital, that focuses on prolonging the life of post-transplant pediatric patients. The lab focuses their research on a protein that controls the expression of turning genes on or off, which regulates immune system expression which can prolong the life of post-transplant patients.
I had the fortunate opportunity to take part and contribute to this amazing research which included working with mice, genotyping, and working in a wet lab. A wet lab is defined as “a laboratory equipped with appropriate plumbing, ventilation, and equipment to allow for hands-on scientific research and experimentation.” Scientific research all begins with an observation, and continues with hypothesis, experimentation, and finally, the evaluations of the results. While the scientific method seems very basic in essence, research is heavily focused on this technique. It is very simple to put solutions together, but the technique and experiments performed can drastically affect the results.
One technique I used is called a western blot. Blotting is the transfer of the specific molecule onto a nitrocellulose paper. There is a northern blot (RNA detection), southern blot (DNA detection), and a western blot (protein detection). These three techniques are very similar, however a western blot focuses on the detection and weight of a protein. It is very important to be precise when measuring the weight of these proteins, otherwise the experiment will not work. Even if one is precise with their measurements, however, the experiment could fail for various other reasons. You could perform the same experiment three to five times and yield no results. From that point on, you look at your observation and hypothesis to revise it. Personally, I can tell you that it is a great feeling to get positive results, but also a terrible feeling when the results you expect come out negative.
The most important aspect of research is to keep questioning and understanding. If an experiment does not work, try again. There are not many transplant research centers in nephrology, yet the one I worked with devotes their time to saving countless lives. Through remaining optimistic, yet level-headed, these scientists contribute to research that will change the lives of children in need of a transplant.