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Going Dutch: My Experience at University Medical Center in Utrecht


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Alison Gareau, MSc
Dalhousie University
Halifax, Nova Scotia, CANADA
alison.gareau@dal.ca



In January 2014, I received a Traveling Scholarship Award from the ISHLT to visit the lab of Dr. Roel de Weger at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, the Netherlands. At the 2013 ISHLT conference in Montreal, my supervisor (Dr. Tim Lee) noticed that Dr. de Weger's PhD student, Manon Huibers, was examining the phenomenon of ectopic lymphoid structures (ELS) surrounding the coronary arteries of cardiac transplant patients. As I was also studying these ELS, but focusing on a different role of the adaptive immune system in relation to these structures, they discussed beginning a collaboration following a dinner attended by Manon and our respective thesis supervisors. After several months of sharing our data and developing new experimental ideas through email, phone conversations, and Skype, I was able to travel to the Netherlands to complete the final draft of our collaborative manuscript in person and learn some new techniques for future research.

I arrived in Amsterdam on a sunny, warm Sunday-a drastic contrast in weather from snowy Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada-and began working at the University Medical Center. The first technique I learned was laser microdissection to isolate specific layers of the coronaries from cardiac transplant recipients, in addition to the ELS surrounding the vessels. From this dissected tissue, I isolated RNA and DNA, and made cDNA for qRT-PCR to look for ELS markers and cytokine presence. For the next two weeks, I was trained to perform qRT-PCR to look for various markers that we were interested in (many thanks to Joyce and Erica for their patience and sharing their exceptional skills with me during this training!). From the isolated DNA, we were able to complete a short tandem repeat (STR) analysis and B cell clonality assay. In addition to the experimental techniques I learned, I was able to look at stained slides for immunological markers I had stained for in Halifax to compare staining patterns, finding that our results were consistent-an important step in ensuring that our findings are comparable.

Working for a month in a diagnostics lab afforded me a huge advantage while in Utrecht. While warmly welcomed by everyone, I was able to take advantage of the extensive expertise of the very experienced technical staff. It was also very beneficial to have working protocols already in place, and be able to practice these until I felt comfortable and proficient in carrying them out. As well, working in a clinical environment gave me the added benefit of working with researchers with a bench-to-bedside mentality, which is something we always strive to keep in mind in our lab at Dalhousie University. Manon and I also were able to submit our manuscript and begin another collaborative manuscript based on data collected while I was at UMC. Additionally, I was able to present at the Monday morning meeting of the department of cardiovascular pathology, where I received important feedback and ideas about my own work.

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On the weekends, thanks to the small area that comprises the Netherlands and the economical cost of in-country travel, I was able to take day trips to other cities. I visited the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, a really rewarding experience as an art enthusiast. I also saw the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens, showcasing millions of beautiful tulips and other flowers and climbed 465 steps to the top of the Domtoren in Utrecht. Another highlight of my stay was partaking in the preparation of a traditional Dutch meal of 'hutspot', 'boerenkool', 'zuurkool', and 'rookwurst' at Dr. de Weger's home.

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I encourage all members of the ISHLT to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to establish international collaborations with other laboratories. I had an invaluable learning experience during my month at UMC Utrecht.

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Disclosure Statement: the author has no conflicts of interest to disclose




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