Graduate School Experience, Laura

It’s fall, y’all.

milwife marine wife milwife marine wife The colors are changing, the leaves are falling, and pretty soon snow will come! Around this time every year (sometimes a bit earlier), the USMC hosts a family day.

This year, we went to Eckert’s Farm and my baby fever was going haywire! All of the tiny babies on tiny pumpkins! Granted, the farm was 4.5 hours away from where we live… so that drive was not exciting. We witnessed our very first pig race (Shaquille O’Squeal was my favorite), and walked through our first corn maze.

I know a lot of military spouses hate the “mandatory fun” events, but I love them! They’re the only times that I get out from lab, and I get to see non-science/non-academic people. Let me tell you–the world is way different outside of the ivory tower. And… I kind of love it. I’m not great at making small talk with other people during these events (introvert alert!), but I still enjoy them.


I also attended the 17th Annual GPCR Retreat! The retreat is 3 full days (from 7am-10pm!) of GPCR-related talks. Personally, I loved seeing all of the cutting edge research being done on GPCRs. I wish that it had been spaced out over a few days, instead of squeezing 17 talks into 1 day. I don’t know about everyone else, but after a few hours I just can’t process any new information. I need a break to walk around, grab a snack/coffee, and to just not think about science-related things.

Nevertheless, I was able to catch up with an old friend who is now doing her postdoc at Northwestern. I also presented a poster on some of the research that the lab is doing, aside from my TBI-related work! The abstract is here (click!), if you’re interested.


Now that I’m back in lab, I’m finishing up my Omics course and training some new technicians. I’ve also been trying to wrap up some experiments. I’ve been doing a mix of behavioral and bench work, and needed to snap some pictures along the way!

One of the main things that our lab does is pain testing. We inject saline or nitroglycerin (which is a known human migraine trigger) into a mouse, and then apply a mechanical stimulus onto their hind paw. We see the highest pain response 2 hours after injection! We do this every other day for 5 days, and then see how long it takes the animal to get back to normal. This method is one of the ways that you can model migraine, but for sure is not the only method! If you’re interested in doing in vivo work, I cannot stress enough how important it is to get into a lab and get some hands-on experience handling animals. I am a huge animal lover, and never thought that I’d be doing experiments on mice. If anything, I vowed to never work with animals, and to always be at the bench. After seeing how critical animal research is to drug development, I realized that (for now) animals are crucial to making progress on drug design. I try to use as few as possible, and have still not been desensitized to them (which I think is a good thing).

Another experiment that I’m trying to wrap up involves immunohistochemistry. This story has been in the works since before I joined the lab! For this experiment, I inject a compound into the animal, wait 2 hours, and then fix the animal. I rush saline, and then paraformaldehyde, through the animal of the body so that the whole body can be preserved. Afterwards, I make very thin slices of the brain, and stain certain sections. I am trying to see if there is more neural activity in a specific region in the animals that got the drug, versus those that didn’t. If there is, maybe that brain region is important to the migraine pain that people feel!

And the fun doesn’t stop there! On top of those experiments, I am also in charge of a certain strain in our animal colony. I wish that we could hire someone to take care of the animals, or that someone else could manage the entire colony. But until that day comes… I get to look after the little minions! My particular strain is a conditional knock-out, which means that a specific gene is deleted in a certain area of the brain. When the mice get to be about 21 days old, I separate them into their own cages and I take a small snip of their ear. I send off that small snip to get genotyped, which will tell me if they do/do not have the genes that we’re looking for.

I will say that if I had not stepped up to look after this colony, that I would never have learned about mouse husbandry, animal breeding, and the wonderful world of genotyping. And of course… the baby mice are just too cute!

And with that… I will leave you with Candy Cane, who is the cutest. She wakes up before we do, falls asleep after we do, and may be part-vampire. She likes to pounce on pretty much everything, bite my toes as I wake up, and then race us to the bathroom. We’re celebrating her 1st birthday next month, although we don’t really know when she was born. We are guessing she was born in late November, since we adopted her mid-January and she was about 8 weeks old. I’m too excited!

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