An infectious diseases undergraduate student talks about his experiences on a project at Leiden University Medical Center

In the summer of 2016, third year undergraduate student Andres Rodriguez Barrientos, from the University of Edinburgh, carried out a two month project at Leiden University Medical Center.

Andres was supported by a studentship from Edinburgh Infectious Diseases to work with Prof.dr. Annemieke Geluk on a project to develop Immunodiagnostic tools for Mycobacterial diseases.

Diagnosing Leprosy

My work was part of a pilot project; to effectively optimize a protocol that researchers/clinicians could use in Bangladesh and Leiden, to properly carry out the diagnosis of Leprosy. I created a panel of fluorochromes that could be used to test surface markers CD3/4/8 and cytokines IL-2/TNFα/IFN-ϒ in the lymphocytes of donor blood samples. The samples were treated with co-stimulatory antibodies CD49d and CD28, and were FACS-ed. I had to analyze the data and establish if it was necessary to work with co-stimulation and what patterns could be seen from the labelled markers.

Getting to grips with life in a real lab

Working in the labs of the LUMC has been very special and has educated me more about how ‘real’ investigation happens. I was introduced to everyone in the team under Dr. Annemieke and all were very welcoming. On Thursdays, the whole team would gather and a colleague would present their work, open to the criticism and questions of other researchers. It felt like engaging in real life case studies only presented to us during our studies. I felt I could always ask other colleagues, not just my supervisor, Susan, for some help or if they could show me more of their individual projects.

I was taught how to perform an ELISA from scratch by other colleagues as well as introduced to the different rapid diagnostic tests for leprosy that the team was developing. Engaging with different projects helped me understand that research is very much a collaborative activity and involves scientists within and between teams/departments.

Much of my time was spent in the lab where I was exposed to a variety of tools and techniques. I was excited to learn how to use a FACS machine and the analysis. Every couple of weeks I had a meeting with Susan and Dr. Annemieke to discuss the project and solve the problems we encountered – practicing your critical thinking skills.  I now understand how important it is to have the utmost care when pipetting and in general, working with blood samples.  I was also made aware of the importance of keeping track of materials and making sure you know what your controls are.

My time in the Netherlands

I stayed in The Hague during the internship and travelled by train to the LUMC which is right next to Leiden Central Station.  Leiden is a gorgeous city with many attractions.  It is a city full of museums, the botanical gardens are well maintained, and if you walk and look hard enough, you may find the many different poems hidden on the walls of buildings. The Hague is also very nice with many old and modern buildings and places to go out and eat. 

For getting around I would recommend the OV-Chipkaart which makes traveling more practical. Every weekend I visited new locations such as Rotterdam, Delft, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Vleuten, Scheveningen, Lisse, Breda, and Tilburg.  Even if you don’t have any plans, you may find yourself walking into concerts and outdoor events – it’s the summer after all.

Invaluable experience

My 2 months in the LUMC has made me more comfortable working in a lab and to respect the rules and style of work in Immunology. This experience is invaluable and should definitely be considered by any Third Year student wanting to learn and engage in research at a well-equipped institution. The skills I learned will be of great help for my final Honours Year project.

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