STEP Reflection- So what?

This has been an incredibly formative experience for me. In the lab, I have learned new technical skills including thin layer chromatography, enzyme activity assays, cell culture methods, ELISAs and DNA extraction. More importantly, I have learned how to be a better scientist. My previous training was interrupted, and I never learned simple things like how to keep a lab notebook, how to efficiently plan a study, simple things like that. I was able to get by, but could always tell something wasn’t quite right. Under the guidance of my supervisor, Dr. Mühle, I learned that I should write down everything I do in my notebook, how to plan out a study efficiently, how to be more organized and more precise. The technical skills I would have learned at some point as needed, but these fundamental scientific skills I will be able to take back to OSU and use while working on my honors thesis. I also gained a new perspective on depression research in general: all of my previous exposure had been to animal research. In fact, I always viewed clinical research as inherently limited and not very useful. This lab, however, combines both human and animal research to overcome the limitations of both. I am now convinced that this is the best path to discovery in depression research, and hope to some day be involved in both clinical and preclinical studies. This has altered my search for graduate schools- I now would prefer a school that has both preclinical and clinical options to allow for collaborations on specific topics, like I have observed here.
The topic of our research is also significant to the medical community. In our research on sphingolipid metabolism and glucocoticoid receptor sensitivity, we are attempting to identify biomarkers of depression. Right now, the only diagnosis for depression comes from a psychological interview and the personal opinion of the psychologist, making consistent diagnoses difficult. Furthermore, scientists now think that depression may be an umbrella dignosis, incorporating multiple types of depressions that we are currently unable to differentiate between. Establishing biomarkers can aid in the diagnosis and treatment of depression by providing a more personalized approach.
One thing that has struck me during my travels around Europe is the impact of World War II on not only the cities but also the minds of the people. It is rare to go to a city without a historical site for the Nazis or a monument to those who perished in concentration camps. Learning about World War II from an ocean away is very different from seeing the huge arena where Hitler had his rallies, imagining the magnitude of the crowd to fill such a site, or standing in the square of the Jewish ghetto where Jews were rounded up to be sent to concentration camps. It made it all so much more real. And despite all these wars, particularly those over disputed territory, there are no landmarks or any indication when crossing country lines. We make a bigger deal about crossing state lines in the U.S. than they do about crossing country lines here!
This trip abroad has also given me my fist opportunity to meet people from other countries, and I am taking away from this experience that we are all the same. There is no difference between a Canadian, a German, a Spaniard, an American, a Russian, and Italian, an Argentinian- we may speak with different accents but we are really all the same. I appreciate how big the world is, but also how small.

I also have a new appreciation for American and my own culture. Having never been outside the U.S., I have never had anything to compare it to, never had any reason to really appreciate the little things about the United States. I can now tell you that I love the fact that water is free in America. I like how we only serve still water, not carbonated, so I don’t have to spend 10 minutes trying to make sure that I buy the right water. I appreciate big grocery/convencience stores like Walmart and Target so much more than I ever thought I would. I miss our high end fast food- Chipotle, Fusian- I also miss food delivery. I have a whole new love for the English language, because that is the only one I understand, and it has been three months since I have been in a country where it is spoken. I am also so thankful that I am from a country where English is the first language, because I wouldn’t be able to get by knowing any one other language. Going to a foreign country and being unable to speak their language has given me a sense of patience and understanding for those who come to the U.S. unable to speak English. Before I would get annoyed, wondering why they were here if they couldn’t speak English. I am thankful that I never experienced that sentiment here.

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.