A key element of the Helmholtz Graduate School Environmental Health (HELENA) is to promote the international network of graduate students. In other labs graduate students can learn new techniques essential for their doctoral work, gain new insights into research areas and exchange ideas with international colleagues. Michaela Helmbrecht, graduate student in the working group Neuronal Circuits in Health and Disease, Institute of Developmental Genetics, took the chance and went from March 24-25, 2014, to Cambridge. Here´s her report.
In my graduate student project I’m working on the mechanisms of adaptive plasticity in the motor system of the spinal cord. After two years I already had promising results concerning environmentally induced placticity in the spinal cord that led us to the decision to perform a new set of experiments. Amongst them, one experiment aimed to enzymatically destroy specific structures within the spinal cord - the so called perineuronal nets -, which have been implicated in modulating adaptive plasticity. However, we did not have experience with the respective experimental set-up.
Successful networking, successful lab work
So I was very happy to hear that Dr. Rosa-Eva Huettl, the postdoc in my lab, met Dr. Jessica Kwok on an EMBO workshop in October 2013 and that they were discussing my project. Dr. Jessica Kwok, who is an expert in the field of perineuronal nets and their role in neural regeneration and plasticity, leads a group at the Center for Brain Repair at the University of Cambridge and immediately offered her help. As a follow up of this workshop I contacted Dr. Kwok, discussed the experimental details and she invited me to Cambridge. So I visited her lab in April 2014 in order to learn the technique on the spot. I was warmly welcomed at the center and one of her students explained the procedure in detail. At the second day I already got some practice in the experiment and was confident to be able to establish it back at the HMGU.
On tour with lab members
Aside from the working experience I also had the opportunity to visit the famous city center of Cambridge with all the beautiful colleges and churches. In the evening a couple of people from the lab also showed me some of their favorite places and we had a beer in the bar “The Eagle” which is the place where James Watson and Francis Crick developed their idea of the double helix.
All together this lab visit was a great success. The discussions about perineuronal nets in a group of experts in the field and the detailed explanations of the procedure will help me to perform the upcoming experiments very fast and efficiently. I’m very grateful that HELENA gave me the financial support for this great opportunity!