Elective Testimonial | Brian Gibney

Our students avail of highly-prized elective opportunities at home and abroad. These electives allow students to explore in further depth topics of relevance to their degree programme. As part of our summer elective series, medicine student Brian Gibney reflects on his time at the University of Pennsylvania.

Brian Gibney During summer 2011, I had the honour of being selected to spend six weeks participating in and learning about the research carried out in the Prof. Fitzgerald Laboratory in the Institute of Translational Medicine and Therapeutics (ITMAT), University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA. My preparations began in the weeks prior to my leaving for America, reading papers sent to me by my mentor so that I would be ready to dive right into the project on arrival.

On my first morning I was given a tour of the brand new Translational Research Centre, into which the lab was preparing to move their operations in the autumn. After that I met with my mentor and began the fascinating process of learning first-hand how to do the investigations which we had been taught about in my previous four years of college. Polymerase Chain Reactions, Western Blots, Immunostaining, DNA and RNA extractions were the basis for all projects undertaken by researchers in the laboratory but they were fascinating for me.

It took me a week and a half to become fully trained in the mentioned lab techniques and in lab safety; from this point I was able to help my mentor with her research as well as taking on a minor project of my own.

The ITMAT takes a true translational view of medical research, funding conceptual research through animal modeling to full clinical trials. It brings new learning from ‘Bench to Bedside’ and back. There are two main areas of research in this lab, NSAIDs and Clock Biology. My mentor’s principal project involved assessing the relative contribution of peripheral COX-2 action to inflammatory pain.

Our students avail of highly-prized elective opportunities at home and abroad. These electives allow students to explore in further depth topics of relevance to their degree programme. As part of our summer elective series, medicine student Brian Gibney reflects on his time at the University of Pennsylvania.

The projects I worked on were animal models of inflammation, carried out on genetically engineered murine subjects to allow us to hypothesise the effects of certain gene products in human inflammation.

In the process of helping with this project I spent most of my time working in the laboratory, performing a wide variety of investigations on mouse tissue, comparing subject mice to controls. I also helped the researchers perform tests on live mice, assessing the degree of inflammation and pain felt by the mice and recording then analysing our findings.

Separate to the help I gave my mentor, I was also tasked with an individual project to find a more efficient way of extracting purified RNA from inflamed tissue. Previous attempts had not produced pure enough RNA for the detailed analysis that would be performed on it.

I was given free reign to attempt different protocols and methods of extraction, based on reasoning and research of evidence online. At the end of the 6 weeks I had found a method which produced purer RNA but had a lower yield, an inconclusive result but one which highlighted areas for further improvement. This self directed experimentation was the most interesting and entertaining part of what was a very beneficial elective.

The days in the lab were relaxed and interesting. Beginning each day at 9am and ending at around 4.30pm, we would frequently have time to read up on relevant papers while PCRs, which normally took 2 hours, were running. In total there were 13 students in the lab at different points over the summer, coming from places as far as Dublin and Pakistan and stages as different as Transition Year in Senior School and Res Year in Medical School. No wonder our mentors often had trouble knowing what level to explain their projects to! We were provided with a series of lectures over the summer by many different researchers and doctors on a wide range of medical topics being investigated by UPenn. There was also a course in programming, given to help us extract desired combinations of A, T, C and G from the billions of base pairs churned out by the laboratory.

The organisation of activities for students and commitment of our mentors to teaching was excellent and greatly appreciated by all those who spent time in the lab. Weekends were spent sightseeing around the historic city of Philadelphia and travelling to New York, Washington DC and the Jersey Shore.

The things that I learned on my elective this summer gave me a true appreciation for the amount of work and planning that goes into every aspect of providing the evidence-based care that health-care providers strive to give to their patients. Knowledge of specialised investigations such as PCR and Western Blotting will allow me to better understand what tests I should order and why when investigating illness.

In conclusion, I would like to express my gratitude to the UCD School of Medicine for allowing me to undertake one of the Ronan O’Reagan Research Elective Clerkships this summer. It was an experience which I would have found very complicated to organise myself. It has broadened my medical horizons and piqued my interest as I return for another exciting year.

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