The Aurora Winter Internship Placement gave me the opportunity to explore, learn and work within the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI). Some placements have a set role for you or set work that they would like to be accomplished by the end of the placement. However, this was a very unique placement because coordinators at WEHI generously asked what I hoped to achieve within this placement. I had two main goals. I hadn’t spent too much time in labs within my degree and definitely not within an applied research setting. So one goal was to experience laboratory techniques and processes in an applied setting. Goal two was to explore the positions and roles that exist within the health, medical sciences profession. WEHI was able to accommodate for both these hopes. Over the four weeks at WEHI, I spent two weeks in the Structural Biology division with Jason Brouwer and two weeks in Population Health & Immunity with multiple researchers under the Laboratory head, Professor Len Harrison.
The Structural Biology team were working on specific molecular proteins that are associated with apoptosis, which is a process known as programmed cell death. Some of these proteins have had their structures solved and therefore experiments are being run to better understand how specific aspects of structure relate to certain functions within apoptosis. Other proteins have not yet been completely solved and so experiments are also carried out with similar goals in mind. I was exposed to number of tools and techniques that that grew and concentrated certain cells but also processes that isolated specific proteins from within cells. I was also exposed to number of machines and instruments used for centrifuging, heating, measuring, filtering, breaking apart cells and also for analysing samples. New terminology, processes and ideas were introduced daily, so it was a constant learning experience. In addition, to maximise the learning experience and also hopefully to commit information to my memory, it was important to develop a semantic understanding including why each step needed to occur and what purpose it served in relation to our experiment. Being able to actually use the machines, carry out techniques and being in an environment that allowed me to ask many questions, made it feel like this understanding was facilitated and meant my learning experience felt productive. I do wish my time with WEHI was longer so I could develop familiarity and become more comfortable with using these different techniques, processes, instruments and machines.
Whilst in the Harrison lab and during the second half of my placement, I was able to capitalise on my second goal. I followed multiple researchers within a study and clinical trial focusing on Type 1 Diabetes whilst they carried out different procedures that they were involved in. The process began by observing nurses and study educators gather personal samples from study participants within the hospital setting. This included blood and stool samples as well as skin, buccal, tongue and throat swabs. Then samples were transported to the laboratory setting to be labelled, processed and stored for analyses by a researcher. Then with another researcher we had to isolate and extract DNA from the samples. Following this, we had to use Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technologies to multiple specific DNA sections of interest in order to carry DNA sequencing. One of the aims for sequencing is to characterise the microbiome at different body sites and see how these characteristics might be associated with certain diseases like Type 1 Diabetes. Again, it would have been ideal to spend more time developing familiarity.
In addition, my WEHI supervisors allowed time for me to attended seminars that were run by fellow researchers within the lab divisions or seminars run by external international and national guest speakers. I was also able to attend a launch for the National Centre for Infections in Cancer (NCIC) at the Peter MacCallum Centre as well as an event at the Doherty Institute called ‘Bush to Bench: World Hepatitis Day and International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples’ to see both Indigenous and non-Indigenous academics and clinicians discuss their work and research.
This opportunity has created such intrigue for me. I am eager to explore what avenues within health and medical research might align with my passions in order to see what post-graduate study to undertake.
Applications for the Aurora Internship Program are open in March and August each year via their website at http://auroraproject.com.au/about-applying-internship