Hi everyone :) How are you doing?
As you know, back in January, I started a "new" job. I'm using quotation marks because having only switched lab, this means it's the same environment: same co-workers, same department, even same desk! LOL. The only things that have really changed are 1) my boss - much more easy going than my previous one (yay!!), 2) which account my paychecks come from and 3) the project/experiments.
So, many of you have asked about how it was going with my new job and I thought it'd be fun to share what I'm doing with all of you :) In this new lab, I'm more of a technician than a research assistant. Since the lab has been established for a long time and employs quite a few people, there's already a system for the ordering and the maintenance of the lab. I help out a little, but there's not much for me to do in that aspect. Actually, I haven't really been hired to join the lab. Instead, I'm more affiliated with the biobank. My new boss is the director of a biobank that collect blood, urine and prostate samples from men who have prostate cancer and have undergone a prostatectomy (removal of the prostate). And my job is to cut slices of the frozen prostates. Yes, it is as exciting as it sounds - not very LOL.
First, let me introduce you to my new best friend and the reason I haven't been blogging and blog-hopping as much as I've wanted: the cryostat. This is the machine that I use to cut the tissue and the most important feature about it is that the illuminated chamber that you see is at -20C (-4F). Yes, it means that I regularly freeze my hands ^_^; I blame the cryostat for my lack of blogging because I used to get incubation times with my old project, but not anymore. Plus, the cryostat is not next to a computer, so I cannot multi-task :P
So once the prostate is removed from the patient, it is cut in multiple sections. Each section is frozen in OCT, a compound that is very similar to transparent liquid glue at room temperature, but hardens into a white solid substance at low temperatures. It is molded to form a block. The thing is tissue is not always smooth and the way it is frozen in the block, I might be cutting a while before getting the whole tissue surface. Below is a perfect example: on the left is what I saw at first and on the right is the whole tissue surface that I obtained. Sometimes, it's very easy to get the whole tissue and other times, I really need to cut a long time and re-orient the block so I don't waste too much tissue. The case below was a hard one and I don't think I got it all, but just couldn't cut more ^_^;
Once I have the whole tissue, I need to get a slice. The required thickness is 0.5uM. Luckily, I only need to set the machine to get the thickness that I want LOL. Again, sometimes it's easy to get the slice because it'll come off smoothly. Other times, it bunches on the blade and I need to use the forceps and brush to smooth out the slide - I hate when I have to do that because I usually have a lot of wrinkles. Anyway, once I have the slice, I transfer to a microscope slide... Something I'm still not good at. It sounds so simple, but you have to be quick and those wrinkles, grrrr.
After I've transferred the tissue to the slide, well because the slide is at room temperature, the OCT will melt... and is then washed away. Using a series of chemicals, I then stain the tissue so we can observe the cells and see the amount of cancer present.
I've been practicing cutting and staining since I started in January and I'm still practicing right now LOL. It sounds and looks quite easy, but each step has its challenges. Right now, my biggest challenge is figuring out whether I've gotten the whole tissue surface yet ^_^; Another challenge is the consistency in staining since it's done manually. Sometimes, a slide is pinker than the other ^_^; And I always have the impression that only half stained well. But apparently, it's good, so go figure. Anyway, everything is going to take practice and I'm getting there :) Since I've been practicing, the people have given me non-cancer samples. Apparently, cancer samples are easier because they are smaller... Right now, I'm doing one block a day... Could probably do two a day, but we don't have much samples for me to practice on LOL. Eventually, I'll have to go up to 4-6 blocks a day.
And there you have it, my new job :) It's fun because it's something very different than what I used to do, but at the same time, it's very repetitive and not sure how challenging it's going to be. Later, when I'm good at this, I might pick up something else, a side-project... but for now, that's my focus :)