“The fact that this project might change the way people understand the interaction between heritability and environment, and the impact it has on the development of different diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, is fascinating!”
I am a sixth-year medical student from the University of Copenhagen. I am currently working on a project, called EpiART, in the Section for Integrative Physiology.
What we do here is trying to determine the impact of Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART) on the epigenome of the newborn human – an exciting project!
Started to learn more
I’ve heard about the Center from a former colleague who is a research-year student at Hvidovre Hospital.
I applied and was invited to start February 2015, so I am quite new here. Every day is different! I am learning new lab techniques all the time and in the process of starting a large project that will run over at least 3 years.
It is known, that children born after ART have increased risk of preterm birth and low birth weight. It is also known that children born after frozen embryo transfer have an increased risk of being large for gestational age.
Recent studies have suggested that ART children may have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life. Notably, ART-born infants may have an altered lipid profile, fasting glucose, and body fat distribution and cardiovascular function.
Hopefully, EpiART project is going to give us new information on the different artificial reproductive methods and the impact on the newborn.
Steep learning curve and responsibility from day one
EpiART project is interesting and quite unique in both, the setup and hypothesis. I applied to get to work with human subjects and do part-time clinical research and part-time laboratorial work. A substantial part of this project is to coordinate participants and samples from our partner hospitals: Rigshospitalet and Hvidovre Hospital.
Even though, laboratory work is very new to me, I had to learn a lot in a very short time period: for example, I am trying to figure out a way to cultivate mesenchymal stem cells from umbilical cord blood the best way possible.
I already harvested some cells that might be the mesenchymal stem cells we are looking for; therefore, I am trying to find primers on different genes, both specific for the stem cells but also for cells they differentiate into, for example adipocytes.
I am using HELA cells as the negative control. HELA cells are from a different germ layer than the mesenchymal stem cells and are cervix cancer cells.
Challenges to overcome
As a last year medical student, I know that laboratory work, physiology and cell biology is quite far away from what we are used to. I had my last cell biology exam approx. five-and-a-half years ago.
Everyone in the Section has a deeper understanding of the regulatory mechanisms and the homeostasis of cells, and it is quite intimidating at times.
I might know a lot about diseases and how to treat them, but I have only a superficial understanding of the underlying mechanisms. It can be a challenge for research students with similar backgrounds.
In the end, it depends on what mindset you enter the research year program with; if you are willing to "refresh" your old knowledge and work for it, you can develop a lot.
Part of the team
I am one of the two medical students currently working on this project; and it is very nice to have someone with the same background to exchange ideas with.
I am very excited to work here; and the spirit in the department is very good. Everybody is extremely helpful.
Even though everyone has a different background - in this department there are molecular biologists, cell biologists, human physiologists, engineers, doctors, etc. – we are all trying to create a common platform to work together the best we can.
I appreciate the feedback I get from everyone, and I think it is a great strength to have such a multidisciplinary work environment as the Center has.