Blog Post - Summer 2021 Research Project

My Laidlaw Research Project: Drawing to a Close

The week before I was officially due to start my research project, “The Innate and Adaptive T cell Response to SARS-CoV-2”, I met with my supervisor Dr. Derek Doherty to discuss the plan for the following six weeks, in terms of what we should expect and what I ultimately hoped I would achieve from the experience. This gave me a lot of reassurance as to the course of the project and our planned outputs. Previously I’d had very little laboratory or research exposure, having just completed the second year of my medical degree. Despite feeling slightly intimidated, I was really looking forward to meeting everyone and getting started!

Over the following weeks, slowly but surely I became more confident in the lab procedures: health and safety, pipetting, aseptic techniques, cell counting and flow cytometry. It was riveting to begin to see the work that goes into each small step of the experiment and to connect the dots between my knowledge of immunology and its application in a practical setting. Those first few weeks taught me so much about how being “thrown in the deep end” however intimidating it may be at first, is often the best way to learn and develop skills.

In week 4, we began to suspect that one of our SARS-CoV-2 proteins was contaminated with LPS, a ubiquitous bacterial membrane component. If this was the case, it would invalidate some of our previous results. Unfortunately, after performing tests over several days, it appeared that our sample was in fact contaminated. In order to continue our experiment, my supervisor approached another immunologist working with the same protein and we were lucky enough to be able to use some of his that was uncontaminated in order to produce valid data. We then began to see consistent results from that particular protein and were able to be sure that our findings were accurate. For me, this was an insight into the reality of scientific research and allowed me to appreciate the complex and at times tedious course of scientific experimentation. I also came to learn how satisfying and rewarding it is to see consistency slowly but surely in your results after weeks of hard work!

During my 6 week research project, I also had the opportunity to attend the Trinity College Dublin COVID-19 Immunology conference. This was a four hour online conference comprised of presentations given by leading experts in immunology. Despite spending four hours sitting at my laptop, frantically taking notes, it was a fascinating and riveting experience. It was also so inspiring to see leaders in their field presenting cutting-edge research on such important topics, ranging from development of therapeutics for COVID-19 to vaccine efficacy and immunity. It was an uplifting and fascinating experience that I won’t forget.

The final weeks of my project were spent putting together the research poster, which ended up being a work in progress over several weeks in order to get everything just right. Overall I had a wonderful experience and can’t think of a better way I could have spent those 6 weeks! I enjoyed my time in the lab so much that I plan to spend some time there throughout the academic year and continue to attend weekly lab meetings.