The year 2014 has flown by, I’m sure we all can agree. I have completed my first semester of my PhD program at Boston University! I will admit this was one of the hardest semesters I have endured, for many reasons, but the change from learning clinical education and visual science to molecular elements of the cell and how to handle mice was a big factor. I expect it to get easier from here as I am slowly learning how to study and test in my BU courses and I move forward with my own research projects.
My project examining postmortem human hippocampi, the part of the brain that creates and retains memories, will be my main focus in the spring semester. This project is investigating the protein expression changes in the hippocampus of patients with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Many people have heard of AD, as it is a devastating loss of memory that progresses to influence other aspects of yourself, like personality and mood, but there is little known about what causes 90% of AD cases. The most common form of AD, called late onset AD (LOAD), causes about 90% of cases, but the etiology of it remains evasive.
My project is looking for differences in protein expression in the postmortem hippocampus among patients with no LOAD, very early LOAD changes, and definitive LOAD diagnosis. In a blind examination of the tissue samples, if the protein expression differences correlate with the level of AD changes in the brain, then these proteins of interest are likely involved in AD pathogenesis and will be investigated further.
The protein expression patterns I am investigating include the presence of the protein in different cell types—either neurons or glial cells, the main component cells or assistant cells of the brain, respectively. Also, I am examining the difference in the quantitative levels of protein abundance in the neurons. All of these are investigated after I image the slides under brightfield microscopy (white light in a microscope) and import them into an image analysis software, ImageJ. Finally, once the identity of the cases (brain sections) are revealed to me, I can organize the data from the image software and analyze the groups for significant differences among them. At the end of March 2015, I will be presenting a poster of my data at the Experimental Biology Conference, which conveniently is located in Boston this year. Conferences are an excellent opportunity for reviewing your own work, practicing speaking about your research, and networking with professionals in your field.
I am very lucky to have incredible support from my mentors at BU. My mentor on the LOAD project is extremely organized, very proactive about finding me the best tools and resources available, and guiding me as I learn how to present and write about my data. NECO’s annual research day symposium conveniently falls two weeks after the Experimental Biology Conference, so I will also present my poster at NECO in April to share my project with the optometry students and faculty.
I hope everyone had a great holiday break and celebrates a fantastic new year!