It’s been a while since I wrote an article for the blog, and maybe because I am feeling a little cheesy, a little homesick and the weather has gone back to winter even though we are in the middle of spring... I have decided to get personal, and share some of the “workings of my heart” (“Emma”, 2009, BBC TV serial).
This time I would like to introduce you to one of the tools we use to assess the well-being of babies in the womb. As many of you know, ultrasound gives us a lot of useful information about the baby, for example, the estimated fetal weight, the amount of amniotic fluid, detection of malformations, etc. But today I would like to explain, above all, how we get information about the placenta and whether the fetus is receiving enough nutrients, among other parameters that I will explain below.
(c) Artwork by Audrey Bell
How are living beings created? Where is all this diversity coming from? Proteins are the building blocks of living organisms. Those small molecules have their own specific function, and work together in a well-orchestrated way to ensure that we can grow, breathe, and keep healthy at all times. In order to function properly, we require a massive number of proteins: one human alone can produce up to 400 000 different types! And yet, our DNA only contains an average of 20 000 to 25 000 genes. It means that genes alone do not account for the diversity of proteins created: the “1 gene -> 1 protein” model we are generally taught is actually a very simplistic representation of a more complex reality. Alternative splicing is one of the twists and turns happening on the journey from a gene to a protein, enabling the creation of several types of proteins from a single gene. What is behind this very science-y term? How does this crucial process work, and why is it so important?
I would like to introduce you to epigenetics. This very fancy word caught my attention while I was in undergraduate school and later on during my MSc. Probably the discovery of this part of molecular biology led me to pursue a PhD in epigenetics, as Steve Jobs would have said... connecting dots!
When I was in undergrad school, suddenly a very naive question popped out in my head: all cells in our body have the same DNA... however, the cells present in the brain and the cells in the skin are very very different... How is this possible?? It is almost the same as asking... how do genetically identical twins show a wide variety of differences?
Camilla Soragni and Gwenaëlle Rabussier are Early Stage Researchers located at MIMETAS, Netherlands. Read their previous blog post here.
By definition, 3D modelling is the process of creating a three-dimensional model of an object. And what about dimensions? Curious to know how this conceptual representation emerged? Let’s go back approximately 570 BC, to its earliest development in Greek mathematics, with the Pythagoreans and their most famous theorem.
In our blog series “Science Untangled” we intend to explain science in simple words. And as my fellow colleagues already did before me, I will try to give it a go myself. I am currently working using mostly bioinformatic approaches – I wrote about how I got there in an earlier blog post. The biological background of my research was already covered in an amazing blog post by Clara. So, the question was: What can I explain? Bioinformatics? The problem is that bioinformatics approaches can vary significantly, the same way biology differs when trying to understand the behavior of fish in the Atlantic or trying to find binding partners of a specific molecule. Well, then where do we start and where do we end?
I decided to go with the basis of bioinformatics, actually of every science in existence: Logic.
The public funds most research carried out in laboratories, yet they are unaware of its influence on their daily lives. Scientists are always made to think and reflect on the impact their research will have on the world, however, research in academia has a different definition to what the public perceives. Our work is peer reviewed by experts in the field and published in relevant journals to validate the results and ensure reproducibility. Internet and media in the current time have made science research more accessible than ever. Research data, as a result of massive work undertaken in labs, are frequently published in news articles. An example is a recent article published in The New York Times, which stated that preterm birth rates have gone down during the COVID-19 pandemic. This news article, published in a well-known newspaper, available to the worldwide audience, sparked the interest of the general population regarding preterm birth, and the risks it could possibly have on mothers and babies.
As a part of the iPlacenta consortium, our work involves communicating our research in local communities. All of our ESRs are involved in some kind of outreach programme. This involves talking about their take on Preeclampsia from the perspective of clinicians, engineers, and scientists.
I was curious if people knew about Preeclampsia or the recent research associated with it. The best way to find out was through a quick survey.
In these very unusual times we’re currently living in, the development of a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 (the coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic) has been in everyone’s conversation at some point. We have come to understand how the process of developing and testing a vaccine works and become a bit impatient about the results. Although there are many differences between a vaccine used to prevent an infection, and a drug to treat a condition, I believe it is a good moment to review the various necessary steps it takes to get a drug from being an idea to having it bottled in your nightstand.
When we talk about research, we are referring to the act of investigating and the main objective of the research of expanding knowledge.
When you think about a research project, you think about how to carry it out, the materials you need, and the time it requires.
Although there are many types of research, and iPLACENTA is made up of many different kinds of research projects, today I want to tell you about clinical research, in which the patient is the protagonist, and talk about: how we recruit patients.
It is important to note that not everyone knows what the research is about and how much work it requires.
Being able to shelter a baby inside the womb for 9 months is something I have always found fascinating. Not only is it a beautiful result of natural adaptation, but pregnancy is also a risky situation during which an efficient compromise needs to be reached between the baby, who needs the mother’s resources, and the mother who needs to cope with the huge challenge of transforming her own body for the benefit of her baby. Maintaining this equilibrium would be impossible without the placenta, which performs an impressive number of tasks to keep both the baby and the mother safe from fecundation to birth. And yet, the placenta has never really received the attention it deserves. Not only by the general public, which often only has vague ideas about what a placenta does, but even more sadly, by the scientific community. The placenta is the least studied organ of the human body and still holds many mysteries. I wasn’t too sure myself about what a placenta did exactly before starting my PhD. I have to say that since then, I have never stopped being amazed at its multi-faceted capacities. With this article, I would like to put the placenta under the spotlight for a moment by sharing with you some of what I found are its most astonishing powers.
About the blog
Being a PhD student in a European training network is a life-changing adventure. Moving to a new country, carrying out a research project, facing scientific (and cultural) challenges, travelling around Europe and beyond… Those 3 years certainly do bring their part of new - sometimes frightening - but always enriching experiences.