In a lab out of Leicester

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Friday was my first time training at another institute and my first time in a lab outside of the University. I was visiting one of the Public Health England labs down in Oxford to learn a new experiment which we hope to get working in the lab. The experiment analyses the amount of damaged DNA there is in a cell by detecting a specific protein that binds to DNA when it is broken in both of its strands.

The experiment only takes a day to complete and so I caught a coach into Oxford at 5:20am to make sure I was at the lab for mid-morning. It took 5 hours in total, a coach, a train and a bus to get there but, luckily for me, the sun was shining which made the travel a little bit more bearable. The experiment usually uses cells taken from blood, and so I travelled with a vial of donated blood which I carried around with me as if it was a newborn baby!

When I got to the lab campus I was pleasantly surprised. I had never been to Oxford before and had pictured it in my mind a lot like London – lots of hustle and bustle and rushing around. But it was the complete opposite.. the campus seemed very quiet and peaceful. It was lovely! After signing in at reception, I was greeted by Steve, and we chatted about the steps of the experiment over a well-needed coffee.

To start the experiment Steve showed me how to separate the blood I had brought with me into layers of red blood cells, white blood cells and blood plasma. To look at DNA damage we wanted the white blood cells and this layer was removed and the cells were ‘fixed’ onto a microscope slide to preserve them. Next, Steve added an antibody that binds to the protein that forms at sites of damage, and a second antibody that binds to the protein and fluoresces. It is then the fluorescence that is detected and seen under a microscope. Any breaks in the DNA can been seen as dots in the cell and counted to determine how many breaks are in the cell.

Experiments like these are really useful in detecting the amount of damage a cell has taken after exposure to things like radiotherapy and can also give an insight into how well those breaks are repaired too. The experiment on my blood sample worked really well in the end and I had a fantastic day. Mainly because it’s great learning new techniques, especially from experts in the field, which I can take back to my lab. But also to get out and see some of the work that other labs across the country are doing.

Can’t wait to start using it in my lab now!

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