December 10, 2007

All done!

After a few months of grueling studying (and a week of being completely BURNED OUT and neglecting studying), I finally finished my week-long set of exams.

The tests were challenging and fair... in the sense that we were given advance warning about the material we would be tested on (unlike the year before us who found our mere weeks before their final that the first 10 chapters of Robbins was going to be on the exam.) I got high marks in all sections, which pleased me. Apparently taking a few days off to just veg out right before the exams didn't hurt me as much as I feared... in fact, it probably reinforced my knowledge-base. I didn't dig out my notes or learn new materials during the past week. Instead, I kept reviewing the things I already knew. It was a good feeling to be so prepared; even though the written essay exam threw a bunch of curveball material that I had to struggle to recall to get partial credit on.

So, where do I find myself during the first weekday of my three-week long freedom?

At school, of course!

Gah. It's not as bad, nor as shameful as it may seem. I have put a research project on hiatus during my finals studying and the lab assistant who was helping me out recently left the lab. I've got to pick up my old project again! How horrible. ;)

Today we had a seminar by a visiting professor on Alzheimer disease, focusing on beta-amyloid proteins effects on neurons. The cruz of the matter is that people with Alzheimers get these plaques of junk (aka beta-amyloid) that cruds up in our brains and messes up with the connections. The professor made the argument that beta-amyloid had a normal neuro-modulatory function in the brain and cautioned against treatments that would reduce levels of beta-amyloid.

This was a big surprise to me. I don't know much about the molecular pathology of Alzheimers... but I thought that amyloid was a waste product, an abnormal process. beta-secretase function predominates over alpha-secretase function for the dysregulation of neurotransmitters in AD!

I asked him a question about the normal function of alpha-secretase and he said that the protein produced is much smaller and it doesn't have any effect. To me, that seems to imply that the normal brain doesn't use amyloid-precursor protein for any positive function, but hey. I'm not a researcher in his field and I didn't want to say "huh? why do you think it has normal physiological functions then?"

I'd like to poke around and do some research on this, but judging by the crazy slides of graphs and his talk about knockout mice missing different nicotinic receptors having strange dose-response curves... I'm not sure I could follow that level of technicality.

One of the things I've learned through my research experience is that I enjoy asking the big questions. Research is something I admire, but I don't really have the lab skills and temperament to enjoy it on a long term basis. Still, I'll be coming in this week to summarize my lab results thus far and start finishing up my experiment. Wet labs are fun, but my goodness! They are SO stressful too! I had an experiment get pushed back a full MONTH because of difficulties with malaria parasites and blood and the lab equipment... it felt like the whole chain of protocol was breaking down piece by piece and we chased after it until everything died and we had to start all over again.

Sorry about the long post. It's been a while since I last wrote and I have a lot to say. I've got more thoughtful things on queue, but these are the things that have been on my mind.

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