STEP Reflection- What?

This summer I spent ten weeks working in a biochemistry lab in Erlangen, Germany studying glucocorticoid receptor sensitivty and sphingolipid metabolism as potential biomarkers in depression through the DAAD RISE program. This was a clinical study that analyzed cells from the blood of four groups of individuals: non-medicated depressed/bipolar patients, medicated depressed/bipolar patients, people who have been in remission from depression/bipolar disorder for at lest two years, and healthy controls. A large part of my responsibility was optimizing a reaction buffer to study the activity of neutral sphingomyelinase in depression. The lab had previously found that acid sphingomyelinase had significantly higher activity in depressed individuals, and for the first time we were analyzing neutral sphingomyelinase. This optimization took significantly more work than expected, because of an interaction between two components of the buffer- detergent concentration had different effects on enzyme activity depending on sodium chloride concentration. In addition, we saw unexpected (but exciting) high variation in NSM activity between different patients, which only compounded the difficulties in determining the optimal buffering solution. Once I had the optimal buffer concentrations, I used samples from a previous study in which healthy male volunteers were administered either an antidepressant or placebo, to see the effects of antidepressants on NSM activity. In addition, I will be working with a parallel study stimulating blood plasma with LPS to produce a cytokine response, as measured by ELISAs. Previous studies have suggested that administration of dexamethasone, a glucocorticoid agonist, inhibits the production of cytokines in repsonse to LPS in healthy individuals, but this effect is dampened in those under chronic stress. I will be studying the effect of dexamethasone on LPS-induced cytokine production in blood plasma to determine a relationship between gluccoorticoid receptor sensitivity and depression.
In addition to my work in the lab, I have spent a lot of time traveling this summer. I have been to Munich, Berlin, Salzburg, Heidelberg, Zurich, Hamburg, Cologne, Vienna, Nuremberg, Liechtenstein, Krakow and Warsaw. I got to visit sites like Hohenzollern castle, Auschwitz, the Baltic sea, and Lichtenstein castle. I still have plans to go to Prague and Budapest and visit the famous Neuschwanstein castle. I have loved seeing each city’s different personality, and enjoying the historic and beautiful sites. Vienna had an artsy feel, each building achitecturally ornate, with multiple operas, musicians on every corner, and at night the people dressed up for a night at the theater. Hamburg was a party town, known for their red light district and full of bachelor and bachelorette parties. Berlin gave off the feeling of being modern, while at the same time having more history than any other place I visited. Zurich was a little stand-offish, clean and of course, rich. My appreciation and respect for other cultures have grown over the past few months; it is quite a different experience being a visitor in someone else’s country as opposed to simply learning about it while in the comfort of your own country.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *