Wednesday, June 24, 2015

FINALLY pictures

I finally figured out to load pictures from my camera to my computer, so here they are!

Down near the water in Aarhus

 Random building art
 Street in Aarhus

Circular walkway that goes way out into the water
Hans Christian Anderson's Childhood Home in Odense, Denmark
Copenhagen, Denmark
 Nyhavn area, in Copenhagen, Denmark
 View of Copenhagen from the top of Frederick's Church

 Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen

 Town Hall in Malmo, Sweden

view off of dock in Malmo, Sweden. That tall building in the background is called the Turning Torso - an apartment building that twist 90 degrees around itself in its 54 floors.

"Spectral Self-Container" sculpture in Malmo, Sweden

Leptospira in Queen Elizabeth National Park


As I am wrapping up data collection at the first field location, I figured I would write a little about my IRES project. As I mentioned in my first post, my project completely changed about a week before I arrived in Uganda. I was originally going to collect mosquitoes from different areas around Queen Elizabeth National Park and morphologically identify them, but the funding for that project was delayed a few months so I had to move to a different project.

While I’m in Uganda I am coordinating with an organization called One Health Central and Eastern Africa (OHCEA). They are a group that supports local masters and PhD students who have projects that relate to interactions between humans, livestock, and wildlife. And my new project is no exception.

For my project, I am working with Erick, a graduate student, and Stallon, an OHCEA research assistant, and together we are collecting wild rodents found on the outskirts of Queen Elizabeth and just within local communities. Queen Elizabeth is a very large park and there are many communities that live just outside of the park boundary. Due to this close interface, there are many human-livestock-wildlife interactions, and often times these close relationships cause problems for all populations involved.

We are collecting rodents in traps, dissecting them, and collecting blood, heart, liver, spleen, kidney, and leg muscle samples. We hope to collect a sample size of at least 100 rodents (we have already caught 59 at our first location!). These samples will be taken back to a lab where they will be screened via PCR for bacteria called Leptospira. Rodents are a common reservoir for Leptospira, and the bacteria can easily be transmitted to livestock and humans to cause a disease known as leptospirosis. The cross-species transmission occurs quite easily in these areas. First, a rat carrying Leptospira urinates on the grass. A community member lets his goat out to graze on the grass. The goat eats the grass on which the rat urinated. The goat is now carrying Leptospira. The community member slaughters his goat, cooks it but doesn’t use hot enough water to kill the bacteria (a very sad but common scenario in these villages), and feeds it to his family. Now his family has leptospirosis.

One of the leading causes of mortality in Uganda, and even all of Africa, is malaria. As soon as people start to exhibit signs of malaria, they go straight to the pharmacy and get malaria medication. Families like the one mentioned in the example above, go get treated for malaria. Interestingly enough, however, malaria and leptospirosis exhibit the same symptoms: head ache, fever, joint pain, and an upset stomach. This means that this family will get medication for the wrong disease, will continue to not feel well, and some members could even die as a result of misdiagnosis. Leptospirosis is a neglected tropical disease, and this needs to change. The lack of information surrounding this disease and its modes of transmission are leading a very interesting summer project!

Unfortunately the molecular lab work will be done in late August, way past my stay, but I am looking forward to working on the project’s preliminary steps and receiving the lab work results from Erick later in the year.


Leo R.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

When in Rome...

WOW. My first impression of Rome. For those who haven't been I strongly recommend going at some point in your life. The food, history, architecture, was all amazing. In the three days I was there I walked over 30 miles throughout the city visiting Vatican city (St.Peter's Basilica, Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel), the Roman Forum, the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, Pantheon, the Mouth of Truth, Trevi fountain and every side street in between. What I found the most amazing was how you could be walking down a street and on one side you have a Burger King and on the other a church or some type of monument that is thousands of years old. At the Roman Forum the majority of the ruins are from the BC period (BC!), and Julius Caesar walked the very same dirt roads throughout the area that I did. It was amazing to think that such historical figures had been in the same area and that I was staring at something that has survived thousands of years of time. In the United States the oldest man-made things we have are a couple hundred years old, so to comprehend that I was in the presence of something thousands of years wow. Not to mention the Sistine chapel, perhaps the most "wow" experience I had while in Rome. It truly is a masterpiece and a wonder to think someone was able to paint a ceiling that elaborately and beautifully. Sadly you can't take photos inside of it so I can't share those with you, but another excuse for you to visit Rome so you can see for yourself!

Just thinking about the food is making me wish I could hop on the plane and go for dinner right now. By far the best pizza, pasta, gelato and tiramisu I have ever had. Not just because it was "in Italy". The food truly is much more delicious, the noodles are all homemade, the mozzarella and tomatoes from the pizza are extremely fresh tasting and the desserts are again, wow.

Me in the Roman Forum

A room in the Vatican
Statue in the Vatican

Roman Forum, buildings from BC period

Last week at lab was a little frustrating. I was performing the stereotaxic lesions on my mice, however my lab partner and I kept running into problems with the anesthesia. For some of the mice, once injected they would start trembling as if from hypothermia. However we tested this theory and tried heating pads and that didn't help, then we tried different concentrations of ketamine within the anesthesia concoction. This didn't help either. Then for some mice they wouldn't fall asleep at all. It seemed as though the more we added the more awake they became.We tried changing all the variables in some way, asked everyone in the lab and no one had ever seen the reactions we were seeing in our mice before. Eventually we were able to sedate the mice that hadn't passed away by injecting them several times throughout the lesioning process instead of a full dose before we began. In the end about a 1/3 of the mice in our project died either from the issue of the anesthesia or the trauma of the lesion. We found that those with lesions to the hippocampus fared worse that those with lesions to the striatum, so for the behavioral tests this week we decided to eliminate the hippocampus group from our experiment (there was only 1 mouse left in this group remaining). This week I started the behavioral tests with my remaining mice (Rotarod and T-maze) so far all the mice seem to be doing well so I'm excited to get more data from these mice over the next week.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Late Updates...

It has been almost three weeks since I came to London for the IRES program, and I have been working in my lab for two weeks now. I realize that I am (again) the last of the IRES-ers to do a second update on the blog, and I apologize for that..

To give a quick background, the reason I am in London is to participate in a ten week full-time research experience abroad. The cool part for me is that my professor here in London is a collaborator on the project that I conduct research at Emory. So, I am conducting research on a different area of the same "bigger" project title.

The past two weeks, I have been testing many strains of yeast in different media using growth curves and killing curves, and we're trying to get some data for later molecular stuff- Simply put, to analyze the genes to better understand and for potential genetically-engineered yeast to be used as a vaccine platform. The work is very fun, and the people in my lab that I work with are very friendly. I enjoy not having the pressure of "I have class right after this experiment", which also helps me develop closer relationships with people in a shorter time!

Apart from lab-life, I have been exploring more touristy places! I have been to the Tates- Tate Britain Museum and the Tate Modern Museum- and both were awesome. I took a boat on the Thames that takes you directly between the Tates.

I went to the Greenwich Royal Observatory, which has the location of the Prime Meridian, and around area I went to see the Cutty Sark, the Old Royal Naval College, and an awesome, awesome street food market. To talk about each place and describe what I felt would take a long, long essay, so I won't do it here.

Also, my home here is a twenty minute walk to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. I went there last week at night for the first time, and I could not believe I haven't been going here. The lights, the canal, the greens, the space all make it a perfect place to be, especially at night. And since London doesn't get completely dark until like 10:30PM, I have a great place to go for a run at night!

I am enjoying some regular life style changes, feeling more like a resident than just a visitor or tourist. I have found little blocks and streets that each have different characters. One of the blocks had a pretty inexpensive barber (~25 dollars, which is cheap for London), so I got my haircut there. Two of my housemates are chefs, so they cook at home often, which is spices up my meals without thinning my wallet too much. The church I am attending here is awesome. It is a Korean church in central London, and I especially love my small group members that have been like family to me so quickly. Also, the chocolate here is amazing, no questions asked.
Next week, I will be going to a Conference for two days, which is exciting. I am also planning some little weekend trips, so until next time!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Segovia, Spain & Porto, Portugal

It has been quite the busy and exciting week! Last weekend I took a day trip to Segovia, Spain. It's a city North of Madrid known for its Roman aqueducts and its Alcázar (castle that Disney took inspiration from when creating Cinderella's castle). When I was touring the castle I ran into the Emory Spanish study abroad group who just so happened to be taking a day trip there as well. So that was neat to see some familiar faces.

This week in lab has been extremely busy as well. I spent a lot of long days performing lesions on practice mice using a dye instead of the toxin that I will be using this upcoming week for my experiment. I also spent time practicing my brain and spinal cord removal skills from the mice. I'm still adjusting to having to sacrifice so many living mice...but such is science...In terms of my Spanish skills they are continuing to improve everyday and I'm starting to be able to understand the natives without having to say "despacio por favor" (slower please).

This weekend I took a trip to Porto, Portugal. It's a beautiful and old city (one of the oldest in Europe) known for its ancient buildings,olive oil, wine and ceramic tiles. With so many medieval buildings and churches still intact it was easy to picture the kings and knights that once roamed these same streets. There is also a famous bridge that was built by the partner of the man that built the Eiffel Tower. Once you walk over the bridge you can see the whole city of Porto. The city is built on a giant hill along river so walking throughout takes some effort. However it's worth the leg pain. Each street brings you to a beautiful historic site. Since it's right on the Atlantic the seafood was amazing and so cheap! Overall a great city! Next weekend I'm taking Friday off from work and heading to Rome! 

The Final Solution

The Final Solution

Only once in my life have I witnessed a grown man breakdown and weep. It was an unbearably uncomfortable and confronting situation. However, looking back on the moment, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

My visit to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp was beyond surreal. However, I am not going to list numbers on how many Jews, gypsies, political prisoners, and soviets were killed in these camps. Nor am I going to list the atrocious conditions that the prisoners endured. I believe that doing so is ineffective for the reader and would be an injustice to the victims of these camps.

I do want to ask you, how can people do this to other people?

As a toddler, we might have hit a kid, just to try it out, and see what happens. When we see the kid scrunch up his face and begin to cry, we learn that hitting others is wrong. How is this lesson unlearned?

"Tolerance means weakness," Eicke wrote in the introduction to his rules. "In the light of this conception, punishment will be mercilessly handed out whenever the interests of the fatherland warrant it." - Erik Larson, In the Garden of Beasts: Love Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

So much wind

The weather here is weird. Sometimes it is cold and sometimes it is relatively warm, but one thing that is constant is the overpowering wind. Sometimes when it really gets going, I feel like I am walking in place. All of the girls wear tights under their dresses and shorts, and I've definitely started to understand why! Other than that, it has finally started to warm up, which for Denmark means a whopping 65 degrees.

Work is going great now. Things have really started to pick up. The memory game study that I presented on during the IRES class during the semester has gotten going and I have started running participants this week. We're tracking adults and children's eye movements while they play the game as a way to look at their thought processes during it and as a window into memory development. I am running all of the adult participants this week and next week because the kids don't speak English, so that would be a bit of an issue :) Yesterday we had a lot of trouble with the eye-tracker not working correctly. It was a little awkward with the participant just staring at you like "Fix this, I came all the way here". But technical errors like this happen all time with the system, and it was working better this morning! Then when I am done with this I spend the rest of the time on data, making the poster for presenting, and helping out with other projects around the lab.

Another thing I have noticed in this city is the amount of festivals in the downtown area. Last week there was a festival celebrating French culture with lots of food and decorations and music in the streets. There was also a huge Pride festival last weekend and a music festival coming up this weekend. I think there is also some kind of art festival sometime soon too. I really like the community feel this town has. It is just big enough to be fast-paced and exciting, but small enough that you feel like you can get to know the culture and the people.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

It's HOT.

        As I am currently writing this post it is 90 degrees, there's not a cloud in the sky and my apartment has no air conditioning. People keep telling me that this is an unusually hot June (it was close to 95 everyday this past week), but if it's already like this in early June what will July bring... Heat aside I'm loving the city more and more each day. There's always something to do and something new to see. Last weekend I met up with a girl in my lab and we went to the Parque de El Retiro. This is a huge 350 acre park in the city that was once owned by the Spanish Monarchy and is now open to the public --it is beautiful! While the current monarchy doesn't have that much power (it's a constitutional government so there are elected officials such as a president), it's sill weird adjusting to the idea that a King and Queen rule and do oversee the country to some degree. The other interesting thing to me is the religious factor that can't be ignored by the abundance of churches throughout the country. Spain is a primarily Catholic country and today is the Corpus Christi holiday in honor of the Holy Eucharist so there is no work or school today. In the U.S.,  aside from the major Christian holidays such as Christmas and Easter, the other Catholic holidays are typically not observed by the country as a whole. However, here in Spain, each holiday is observed and celebrated. Two weeks ago was another major religious holiday in Madrid "The Feast of San Isidro". And yes I said "Madrid" not "Spain" because Saint Isidro was the patron Saint of Madrid so that was just a day of celebration for the people of Madrid. The other regions of Spain have their own days to celebrate their patron saints.

People boating on the lake in the park

The rose garden in the park, it has over 4,000 roses 
         Life at the lab is going great. Last week I assisted on another project and helped perform stereotaxic lesions to the striatum on rats. I helped anesthetize, open up the skull, lesion and stitch the incision back together. Since I don't work with live animals in my lab at Emory, I feel as though in just these few short weeks I have acquired so many new skills, and definitely new lab experiences. Yesterday, one of the women in my lab defended her doctoral thesis so we went as a lab to watch her defense. While I had a hard time understanding much of it since it was all in Spanish, it was very interesting and exciting to watch the whole process. Afterwards, the whole lab threw a huge party for her that went from early afternoon until late at night. It was very special to be there for this girl on such an exciting day and it was a great bonding experience for me with the whole lab. Tomorrow during our weekly lab meeting I will be giving a powerpoint presentation on the work I do at my lab at Emory. I'm excited to share with them the research that I do in the U.S! In terms of my experiment,  my mice have finally arrived for my project. However since yesterday was the defense and today is a holiday I will be beginning the main part of my project on Monday. Life is very hot, but Spain still manages to be enjoyable!