Monday, April 19, 2010

For the greater good

Now that I have had a thorough streak of EMS, a little lab divergence is needed, though apologies are needed for the general lack of posting. I am neck deep in work, applications, and the firehouse.

Disclaimer: If you do not want to hear about the nitty gritty of laboratory research with lab animals (aka mice) do not read any further. I have heard and understand both sides of the lab animal argument and this is not a post about that.

When I started my job, my project was heavily focused on bone marrow transplants and finding new pathways/potential treatment options for graft versus host disease, a possible side effect of a non-self bone marrow transplant (if you want to know more about these in general, leave a comment and I will write a post).

Now, my project is focused on non-standard chemotherapy drug screening for cancers. The theory behind it is awesome, as these drugs don’t destroy rapidly growing cells, but instead make the immune system better at fighting off cancer. Now I am talking about small amounts of cancer in the setting of someone who has had a tumor/cancer removed but may be a high risk for relapse. These drugs would help with the relapse (perhaps more, but that will be another post :) ).

In order to have the most clinically relevant results possible at this stage, we decided to give these drugs orally instead of injecting them, as most patients would take the final form of this in pill form, not necessarily an IV drip. So I inject my mice with tumor, wait a few days and then start treating them with my drugs to see if any will ultimately kill the cancer. Easy you think.

Think again.

Giving a mouse a specific amount of a drug orally is no easy task. It involves much dissolving, aliquoting, and mixing of said to start with. Then there is the actual problem of giving the mouse the drug, seeing as just having them drink the small volume will never fly in the scientific world. This leads to EMT GFP taking very small metal feeding needles (they are blunt tipped, not sharp at all) attached to a 1cc syringe and accurately dosing each and every mouse.

After scuffing the mouse so it will theoretically not move.

And navigating a mouse’s pharynx blind to avoid a trachea (hey! its the reverse of intubation! Well kind of) and not puncture the esophagus.

It stresses me out, because try as I might, there is always one mouse that manages to squirm and pull, causing me to tighten my grip and occasionally accidently start to strangle to mouse. The second I see this I always put the mouse down but it still stresses me out that I did it. I think the mice are cute and I don’t want to be hurting them. But they are the ones who are squirming, though I know telling them to hold still does absolutely no good.

And then they pee on me, which, while I am wearing gloves and a gown (and booties and a mask and a hair cover), I still dislike.

Or the ones that try to struggle and struggle despite my good grip on them and freak out like they can’t breath even though I know they have an airway (if you are squeaking, you have an airway).

And then each and every tumor has to be measured. At least twice a week. More when the tumors get big. Not as bad as giving them drugs, but tedious. Oh so tedious and not entertaining as the mice try to struggle. Again.

Bone marrow transplants are so much less stressful…

But, if I can get through these compounds, if I can surviving being a human high through put machine, I may find something that helps. I may find a new drug to fight cancer. And at the very least, I can cure mice of cancer. In the end, it will be worth it.


  1. That's just incredible. I feel bad for the mice, of course (animal lover) but I believe this sort of research is vital. It would be a Very Good Thing if you came up with a drug that could boost the immune system to such a degree that it can actually kill cancerous cells. You go, girl!

    Great post. Thanks for sharing with us the good work you're doing.

  2. Wow, fascinating research (but I'm still glad I work with plants and not animals. I can't imagine trying to force-feed a mouse. Yikes).