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I write verbose posts about polyamory, love, lust, and self-discovery on my other blog Victoria's Imaginarium.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Working in an Oncology Lab

Note: You are about to read a really boring geek post. All pictures were taken by my Xperia X8 phone camera.

In an earlier post I mentioned that this summer I am working as a trainee in an oncology lab of McArdle Cancer Research. Here is more about the place and my experience so far.

Firstly, this natural beauty is me.

Secondly, this odd-looking block is the building I work in.

Thirdly, this is where I enter the building.

Lastly, this is the lab I work at. That's all about the place.

The Research
is about.... um.... something to do with stem cell and leukemia(read more here)

mouse strain

The strain we used:
lab dead rat
I am not sorry if you are eating 

If I who have hemophobia can watch this everyday and still enjoy my lunch in the office right opposite the narrow corridor, you can do it too!!! 

Note the bones were all gone! Mice are expensive. One rat costs like $10+

-First day-
refill pipette tips
Actually this picture was taken yesterday, cuz I am still doing this to kill time. When I get too free, I just roam around and collect empty boxes, then when there are many enough boxes, I do the refilling. 
(if you think I refill by transferring the tips one by one, it means you are not observant enough!)

pipette tips
3 quarters of the boxes were refilled by moi 

-Second day-
dna templates
Extracted DNA templates done by moi *proud* 

Actually just an easy dull job lah, which they described as "boring" but I enjoyed it a lot cuz it's new to me :D Basically all I did were-- lyse cells from 40 live mice tails 38 tips of tails from live mice, precipitate DNA using isopropanol, pick up DNA and put into TE buffer to resolubilize DNA. Usually took 2 days to complete cuz involve heating for hours.

In the picture are the end products, which are stable to be kept like this at room temperature.

-Third day-
PCR machine
Prepare PCR mixtures of the 38 DNA templates and run PCR using this machine. Wait 1-2 hours.

Need extra alert not to let bare skin (and clothes, cuz I don't have a lab coat yet, sold my old one before flying here) come in contact with anything in this area. Must also remember to change the gloves after working in this area, to keep other areas safe! 

ethidium bromide
The culprit of this hazardous area. Cancer-causing chemical. Every time before I open the bottle, I hold my breath until I put the bottle cap back on. lol

electrophoresis gel
Ethidium bromide is used in making electrophoresis gel to detect RNA and DNA under UV light. We just need 3μL for the100mL gel (big) and 1.5μL for the 50mL gel (small).

And I have made 4 gels with wrong procedure! I added EB to the water together with the agar powder and heat the mixture, which was very dangerous!!!
Because the boiling mixture will evaporate the highly toxic EB!!! 

Luckily I realized my mistake when I watched Alisa prepared the gel... EB should be added after heating the agar mixture and cooling the mixture by rinsing the outside of the flask with cold water, to minimize evaporation of EB.

Luckily I realized early enough!!! THANK YOU MY LORD THANK YOU

electrophoresis dna result
#4 is my first attempt. I misunderstood the instruction and added size marker into all wells... And when the photo came out my mentor GuangYao was mumbling "weird... very weird... I have never seen anything like this... why? weird..." all the way from the photo printing room back to our lab room. Then came another mentor, Du Juan, she looked at the photo and asked, "you misused marker as loading dye?" And I went, "no ah?" So GY went to the hazardous area, saw the size marker was all used up, "just now was full you sure you didn't use this as loading dye???"

Me: "I put this *point loading dye* first then add this *point marker* to all wells."

That day was the first day of my period and I didn't have enough sleep the day before, so after I reached home at 6pm I hit the bed but was dreaming about redoing the PCR (in details!!!) and did the same mistake again repetitively till I woke up due to massive headache at 9pm! Stressed sial. Cuz they said the marker is quite expensive and I wasted it all! Luckily didn't ask me to pay. And I also didn't ask about the price. Then I slept back and dreamed about death of me and family till 8am the next morning. Wtf.

So the next day I reached the lab before 9am and repeated the whole PCR and electrophoresis again. Turned out the Nras one in #3 perfect (which sometimes won't be), but the Cre one cacat (which usually will turn out perfect) wtf. I repeated the Cre one again and #2 is the result, still cacat, see the missing bands when compared to #4.

The next day my mentor changed the primer and repeated himself, turned out #2, which was the correct result cuz it matched with #4. Maybe the problem was on the primer. Zzz.

Photo with inverted color looks so much better!

If you read until here, you're either a science lover or a loyal reader :'D THANK YOU!!! 

Now I'm in my 3rd week in lab. So far I have done PCR and electrophoresis of Nras, Cre, RAG and Kras. I also found out something on my own!!! which is-- cannot stop electrophoresis too early. 

That day I just felt not confident with the result because all wells produced single bands. So I put the gel back and ran electrophoresis again for 7 more minutes and...
some thick bands separated into 2 thinner bands 

Then I printed another picture, handed it to my mentor, pretended that the first one doesn't exist and brought it home as souvenir. LOL

Note the fat bands. Also this is a shitty photo cuz it was my first time adjusting the brightness and focus on my own.

And and and I just found out that one member of our lab is a belly dancer!!!

belly dancer lab

Bye crow. Thank you please come again. Hahahahahahaha.

So this is the most geeky post I have blogged so far. Thanks to PCR waiting periods, I was so bored and free I added filters and bokeh effects to the pictures using Android apps and made my lab look very hipster!

Ending this post with the theme song of my summer:

Thank you my faculty advisor Chris Day, for introducing me to lab. Thank you so much.
Thank you Prof. Jing Zhang, for accepting me into the lab. Thank you so much.
Thank you GY, Juan and Alisa, for teaching and explaining to me what I'm supposed to do, and also YanGang, YuanYi, JingFang, MyeomJun and ?? for being friendly and helpful to me. Thank you so much.

I am looking forward to work with the team till I graduate!!!
I know I am in the right lab for my Honors Thesis 
Life, you have no idea how grateful I am for all the good things you have given me... THANK YOU SO MUCH 



  1. I actually enjoyed reading this post. When I was in the lab, I actually developed and validated the test methods themselves. Although, I did my share of testing samples too.

    Your lab work seems interesting, because you get to work a little with animals (even though you have to kill them). I used to have to lead tours through a GLP facility that had hundreds of dogs, rabbits, rats, and even some monkeys!

    I must admit, just as I was starting to lose turned everything around and had me thinking that I was maybe going to see some pics of your lab mate belly dancing. haha

    You seem a lot like me, I also dream about everything that went on during the day. But if you are really like me, you will eventually master all of the testing and you will become the best at testing all of the samples in the lab. ;-)

    I just realized, that another place that you may like to work is the State Crime Lab. I always thought that it might be interesting analyzing samples that may result is the solving of a crime or a murder!

    1. I'm not authorized to work with the mice yet! Need some sort of BioSafety licence. At first it seemed really cruel to me, now that I have been watching them dissect mice everyday, I'm starting to feel numb. Which is good since working with mice is inevitable in human genetics research!

      About the belly dancer part, initially I even thought of secretly snapping a picture of my lab mate and photoshop the head onto a belly dancer's body! LOL! Unfortunately all of us are Asians, the result will not be convincing hahahaha

      Do you think we have some extent of OCD? Sometimes I really feel like I need a Dumbledore's pensive. I often dreamed about answering every questions on the exam papers I had during the day... it's really a torture.

      I actually did consider that after watching some crime investigation TV series (lol), the job seems very cool and thrilling! But I don't think I can handle the stress dealing with crime evidence. Also it won't put me on future textbooks or lead me to a Nobel Prize haahaha. Medical research FTW! XD

      And thank you for taking time to leave long, witty, encouraging comments on my blog! I enjoy reading your comments :)

  2. Taking tests was torture to me too. A few times, right after I handed in the exam, I realized what the correct answer was just minutes too late -- then I would re-live the stupid test over and over for weeks and months later.

    Did I really miss the first photo of you? I don't think that I would miss you must had added it later. I like how you make direct and honest comments -- because you certainly are a natural beauty. :-)

    Take care,

    1. OMG I thought I was the only one. Every time the moment I handed in my paper epiphany would hit me! HATE THAT. But usually the ghosts of the exam haunted for only around one week. HAHA.

      Yep I added the first picture ;) and some pictures of electrophoresis! Thanks and take care too :)

    2. Hi there natural beauty! How is school and the job going? Anything new happening?

    3. *shy* lol

      My boyfriend was over for 2 weeks so I was spending quality time with him! :D Just sent him off this afternoon. Will update this blog soon :)

  3. Well of course you have a bf -- but good thing that you got rid of him. :p Now you have more time for your dear readers....haha