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“I now feel like a real scientist …”

“I now feel like a real scientist …”

Over the past two weeks, I have performed pilot experiments to finalize the design of my final project. One of these pilots compared an infected wild type model with an uninfected one; wild type means that the model has not been genetically modified in any way.

A day after infection, I examined spleen for the presence of certain dendritic cell variants. Dendritic cells are one of many types of white blood cells, and some of their subsets are found in greater numbers during infection. Therefore, I expected to find more of these dendritic cells after lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) infection. Dendritic cells are an essential part of the immune system, as they detect foreign bodies, such as pathogens, and present the pathogen’s antigens to T cells. Antigens are the surface proteins on cells that act as a recognition system. Your body has a set of antigens that are unique, so your immune cells can recognize you and find foreign cells. The ...

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Pietro Miozzo
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DNA extractions: a “hands on” approach to theoretical concepts

DNA extractions: a “hands on” approach to theoretical concepts

This week I spent most of the week doing DNA extractions as we get ready for a large genotyping project in lab. Learning how to do DNA extractions was really interesting, because it’s a theory that is widely taught in high school and college courses, but I had never been able to see the practice of it. Being able to have a “hands on” approach to theoretical concepts I’ve learned in my undergrad career is a great way to cement concepts as well as spike my interest in what’s actually happening with the tests that I’m doing. Instead of just following protocols, I can understand biologically what’s happening within the experiment. Dr. Emily Gillespie and her staff are very good about making sure I understand the biology behind what we do, and that’s made my experience all the more enjoyable.

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Brianna Lauer
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Lupus research: a balancing act

Lupus research: a balancing act

This week I learned how to balance doing multiple things in a laboratory! Sometimes you can have three different experiments running at once, and you have to make sure you know what all of them are doing. I’m doing a lot of different protocols, like RNA extraction, DNA extraction, cDNA synthesis, and Toll-Like Receptor stimulations.

This week I also got to meet with Dr. Jerry Molitor who is an Associate Professor of Medicine in Rheumatology, working at clinics here at the University of Minnesota. His specialty is Scleroderma and he’s doing a joint study with Dr. Emily Gillespie. I had the privilege to learn about this ongoing project and I even get the chance to help out and help analyze the results for a paper that’s being written on the subject.

This is an amazing opportunity and I’m really excited to start seeing results that we can analyze!

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Brianna Lauer
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What my lupus research project is

What my lupus research project is

Now that we’ve gone through the introductions, here’s a little bit about the project I’m working on (I promise it will be understandable!). I am examining the role of a lupus-associated gene, called PTPN22, in response to viral infection. Many people with lupus, and other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, have a mutation in this gene and produce a mutated protein. This protein’s mutation is in the form of a substituted amino acid at position 620.

What does that mean? Genes code for proteins–the sequence of base pairs in the DNA, like a barcode, are scanned by molecules in the cell to then produce a protein. Imagine a string of beads, and each bead can be one of around 20 different colors. The beads represent the amino acids–building blocks of proteins–while the different colors represent different kinds of amino acids. You may have heard of some of them. The amino acid phenylalanine is used to make the artificial sweetener aspartame, ...

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Pietro Miozzo
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Getting settled in and initial thoughts on this fellowship opportunity

Getting settled in and initial thoughts on this fellowship opportunity

I can’t believe the first month of my fellowship has flown by so quickly! I began working in Dr. Erik Peterson’s lab in the University of Minnesota’s Center for Immunology Research at the beginning of June. So far I have been immersed in both the theoretical and technical aspects of lupus research. The fellowship has been made even more exciting by the fact that I have never been to Minnesota before, let alone the Midwest; I have just finished my first year of undergraduate at Yale, and my family lives in New York.

In the lab, I have been preparing the skills and knowledge I will need to embark on my project. This has involved reading research articles on white blood cell function, their biochemistry, and their action. Reading has taken two forms, directed and independent. For my directed reading, Dr. Peterson and I have been working through papers–we meet and I present their figures, discussing the methods and the data, ...

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Pietro Miozzo
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My First Week Here at the U of M Lupus Research Facilities

My First Week Here at the U of M Lupus Research Facilities

My name is Brianna Lauer and I first joined the Lupus Foundation of Minnesota through their Summer Fellowship Program, which is a program that gives undergraduate students the chance to work alongside faculty at the University of Minnesota and work on funded programs dealing with lupus. I became interested in lupus research through the amazing guidance of Dr. Emily Gillespie and her dedication to this research.

I wanted to talk about my experiences this summer working in the laboratory here at the University of Minnesota. I’ve only been here a few weeks, but the main thing that I’ve noticed from being in lab alongside these scientists is their passion for the work they do. My first weeks here have been filled with learning the ropes around the laboratory including things like bioremediation training and DNA extractions! These are all things that I would have never gotten the opportunity to learn if it weren’t for the Lupus Foundation of Minnesota, and I’m ...

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Brianna Lauer
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New Faces to Lupus Research: Student Summer Research Fellows

New Faces to Lupus Research: Student Summer Research Fellows

If you attended the Lupus Food and Wine Classic in June, you might remember the group of enthusiastic young adults who greeted you as you entered Nickelodeon Universe and escorted you to the registration table. Those students are this year’s Lupus Foundation of Minnesota (LFM)Summer Research Fellows, and we are fortunate to be hosting them in our laboratories at the University of Minnesota while they participate in a lupus research project and learn what full-time research is really like. (Spoiler alert: it’s pretty cool. But I’ll let the fellows tell you that themselves later this summer).  

There are two summer fellows in my lab this year, Sivun and Brianna.  They have already learned some new lab techniques – measuring the activity of a gene in a blood sample, doing in vitro experiments to activate blood cells in a culture dish and see how they respond, examining DNA for the presence of genetic variations associated with lupus, and cloning a little-known lupus-related ...

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Emily Gillespie
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Lupus patients invited to Biovid Corp. survey

Biovid Corp. would like to invite patients to participate in a 20-minute online survey discussing experiences and attitudes toward the management of your lupus condition. The survey is strictly for market research purposes; there will be absolutely no sales or promotional activities in conjunction with this survey. Your responses are completely confidential. Qualified participants will receive a check at the end of the study for $50. If you are interested in participating in this survey, please email Dusten Brennan at Biovid at dbrennan@biovid.com .

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Increased severity of lupus and African-American women focus of Lupus Foundation of Minnesota-funded research at University of Minnesota

Increased severity of lupus and African-American women focus of Lupus Foundation of Minnesota-funded research at University of Minnesota

Researchers who seek new biomarkers for human diseases may have many goals. In the field of lupus research, we would like to find biomarkers that could make the disease easier to diagnose, improve the management of disease activity, predict when a flare is likely to occur, and help physicians decide which medications to use (or avoid) in a particular patient.
 
Thanks to advances in genomic and proteomic technologies over the past 10 years, lupus researchers have been successful in identifying many candidate biomarkers in human SLE. Many of these studies have been focused on patients of European descent. However, African Americans are disproportionately affected with SLE. Not only is the incidence of SLE in African American women higher than in Caucasian women, but African Americans also tend to have more severe disease compared with white SLE patients. We would like to gain a better understanding of the biology that leads to the increased severity of lupus in African American ...

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A new drug is approved, new questions arise. So how do we find the answers?

A new drug is approved, new questions arise. So how do we find the answers?

Fortunately, many researchers have ideas about where to look for answers, because we know that Benlysta works by reining in a type of immune cells called B cells.  B cells play an important role in the normal immune response, but when inappropriately activated in a lupus patient, they produce harmful elements that cause the damaging effects seen in SLE.  Researchers think that measuring these may provide clues to help us determine whether an individual patient is likely to respond to this particular drug.

So where exactly might these clues be found? One place to look is among the autoantibodies that doctors routinely test for in lupus patients.  B cells also make an arsenal of other factors that they release into the environment around them, boosting the fight against invading germs but also waging war against a lupus patient’s own tissues and organs.  Finally, B cells display tell-tale markers on their outside surface when they are in attack mode. 

A number of outstanding ...

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Emily Gillespie
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