Thursday, May 14, 2015

Thinking Like a Researcher: The Search for Novelty & All the Variables

109 on the Back Burner and Being in a Bubble
This semester, I had two final presentations in 20.310 and in 20.109. However, 20.310 came first sequentially, and thus, it took awhile for research proposal ideas to be in the forefront of my mind. I knew that I was vaguely interested in stem cells, regeneration, reactivation of embryonic function, and neuroscience, but the keyword is "vaguely." I also vaguely knew that my partner and I both were interested in synthetic biology. So, naturally, I threw the research ideas bit on the back burner, figuring my partner and I would just choose something in synthetic biology.

So the 310 presentation came and went, leaving my partner and I to find a topic. I realized that I actually had no idea what was going on in any of the fields I named above, let alone whether they could be advanced by a mere sophomore. 

Unfortunately, whenever I'm done with all of my psets and exam studying, it really doesn't strike me as rejuvenating to read the news, let alone to read through dense research papers (especially when the volume of journals and papers is super daunting). It's weird/scary realizing that you're in this science-engineering major, but that you actually don't really know what's going on in it. I still feel intimidated by the prospect of trying to figure out what I'm actually interested in, let alone becoming halfway knowledgeable about those topics. 

(So, vaguely, thanks 109 for helping me recognize that I'm definitely still in the process of becoming an actual bioengineer!)

Thought of an Idea... But It Was Already Done :( And then Another Idea... Also Done. (But at Least I'm Thinking??)
Anyways, I tried to start thinking of ways to treat cancer and actually independently thought of using antibodies to identify cancer cells after considering the Philadelphia chromosome, which generates a unique cancer protein, and the display of proteins on cell surfaces. Which led to thinking "huh, maybe you can attach a drug to its end... but how; is that even possible?"

Turns out it was a good enough idea that people are already doing it; found that out much later after googling and finding "antibody-drug conjugates." Talk about a crisis realizing the idea you spent a night coming up with wasn't novel! So, we came up with an alteration by attaching a KillerRed protein that kills cells after light activation, thinking that'd distinguish it from antibody-drug conjugates. And then I found out that photoimmunotherapy is also a thing. AHHHHH!!!!!!!!!! I do feel validated that I can actually think of ideas that are apparently reasonable enough to have been done, but still, AHHHH!!!!!

Anyways, literally the night before the presentation, I managed to convince myself that our idea was novel enough, despite getting feedback from almost all of the teaching faculty saying it was novel enough. After doing a lot more paper reading, there are a lot of subtle differences between systems just because of how intrinsically complex biological systems are.

And so, perhaps part of the beauty in BE is how there are SO MANY DETAILS that can be messed with, optimized, ignored, etc.... Although, as I was designing experiments for the proposal, I realized I really had no idea what I'd do for the specifics. How long to incubate? How much of this to mix with this? How much drug to add to the cells? What cell lines to choose? How many tumor cells to inject? And so, I guess it's also one of the contributors to BE being a huge labor/time-intensive job! Ack!

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