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22 november 2019

Academy students discover the daily life of a scientist

Marloes Verkerke

During the U-Talent Academy programme, high school students visit a UU research group for four days. Marloes Verkerke is a PhD student at the UMCU and conducts Alzheimer research. She supervised a group of Academy students and wrote a blog about it.

“U-Talent is a great program for high school students to get acquainted with the life of a scientist. During programme, they learn how to write a scientific article and how a day in the lab looks like. As preparation for the small internship of four days at my research group, the students did a literature search on Alzheimer’s Disease and thought of a small research question.

Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by protein accumulations in the brain, which consists of. Therefore, we chose this protein to dive into a little bit further. When starting a research project, it is important to know everything about your protein of interest. So, the students started with a database search on APP to find out what is already known about this protein. What is the normal function of this protein? Where should it be localized in the cell? Are there mutations known to be associated with Alzheimer’s Disease? What is the effect of the APP accumulations on brain cells?

“It was very nice to see that the students were enthusiastic about setting up experiments and that I could help with giving them an early peek into the daily life of a scientist.”

Visualization of protein accumulation in the brain of an Alzheimer patient.

After collecting all the background data, we went to the microscope to look at the cells in our brain and the differences between healthy and Alzheimer brains. With a microscope, we can visualize cells that are only a few microns in size in human post-mortem brain tissue. The students looked at the morphology of different brain cells and learned how we can distinguish one cell type from another. The protein accumulations were visualized and the students took pictures of these accumulations in healthy and Alzheimer condition. Subsequently, the accumulations were quantified in an objective and standardized way.

The students have been through the whole process of doing research, from literature search to the final step of data analysis. It was very nice to see that the students were enthusiastic about setting up experiments and that I could help with giving them an early peek into the daily life of a scientist.”