Mice, Drugs and Global Warming

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Day 1:

Although my advisor, Chris Snelling, had said that I could start work at 10, I was up and going by the same time as an average school day to go to my actual job at 730. This isn't part of my senior project (I actually get paid for this time) but it definitely contributes to my overall business throughout the day. After doing some reception work for 2 hours and drinking several cups of coffee, I left for OHSU. Getting there at 9:50 (giving myself plenty of time to park, right? Wrong.) I spent about 15 minutes driving around the campus looking for a parking space that didn't require me to have a parking pass, be employed by maintenance, or be disabled. After paying $8 for a 5-hr spot about 1/2 mile from the lab, I finally arrived at about 10:15.

First thing, Chris and I got my paperwork together and we headed over to see Diane about getting my badge. She gave us a pat on the wrists because I was supposed to have my badge before even coming on campus, but otherwise took the papers and told us she'd fast track the background check. From there we headed over to see the mice! Chris showed me his other office there where he keeps track of all the data and then we went over to take readings on the mice before starting there 2-hr alcohol session from 11-1. Today we got to weigh them, so Chris took out each cage and placed it on the scale, then removed the mouse in order to determine weight (a much more effective method than we'll see later) and I got to do ther recordings since I did not have the clearance to handle the mice myself without the badge. Everything was going great until we got to poor 6-3. Sadly, this little guy was stiff as a board in his cage, and Chris said he'd probably been dead since Friday. While a sad way to begin my project, this did allow me the opportunity to get a closer look at the attachment to the head of the mouse after Chris pulled it out. Then, walking towards the "Mousey Morgue" we stopped in small room in which a woman seemed to be operating on a mouse with it's chest spread open. It seems like this might make someone sick, but oddly enough, when we left after watching her whole process (Including extraction of the brain, which was especially awesome), I was definitely ready for lunch. And good thing too, because the cafeteria spread is amazing; It is like a mini New Seasons.

After lunch, Chris showed me a little bit of what he was doing on the GC Mass Spec and began a bit of a chemistry lesson, until we had to go back to visit the mice at 1. After taking results there and inputting them into the computer, we returned to discussing chemical composition of steroids and their roles in the body. After probing me for my knowledge of steroids (which made me wish I'd paid more attention during the chemistry section of BPC), we settled on using common hormones estrone (the hormone of estrogen - I was corrected) and testostrone to go through the ways in which chemical signalling happens. We wrapped it up around two and after a 10 minute walk back to my car, I headed back to joys of secretaryship.


Day 2:

Once again, after being forced out of bed, I went into work, this time from about 6:45 to 9:30. Super awesome. This time I managed to find a FREE! parking spot much closer to the office, however, it was only good for two hours so I knew I'd have to come back and move. I got to Chris' office at about the same time and we talked for a bit before heading down to do readings for the mice. I tried to keep up as he sped through and we were able to finish pretty quickly. Immediately after this we ran back to his office and then walked over to the VA for a meeting. This was especially interesting because I got to listen to these 5 women talk about their varying, but similarly based experiments and the results and problems that they faced. One girl, Marsha, even described a mouse of hers as a "popping popcorn" that she could never weigh because it would leap out of its cage everytime and nearly escape. Another woman then volunteered her assistance as a "mouse whisperer" to go and help get the mouse in line. Chris was also able to announce that he'd been successful in his attempts at locating this compound after many attempts and tinkerings with the mass spec, etc, and he told me that he'd be explaining that process more later. After the meeting we walked with Marsha and the other woman back to Marsha's lab where I got to see the jumping mouse. To me, as I watched the one woman try to calm the mouse and then have to chase him around the desk so that she could then stick him on a scale, I found this completely unnessesary as either woman could simply use Chris's method of first finding the weight of the mouse in the cage and the weighing only the cage to find the difference. That would take away any reliance on the mouse staying still, but Chris later explained that he has tried to tell them this but that many researchers have the way that they do things and they don't like to change it.

From that lab we went down to the lunchroom and got some more yummy food and went back to his office until 2 when it was time for the next readings. While doing this, Chris and I found our way onto the topic of drugs and how they work on a chemical level. Luckily I got to participate a little more on this subject thanks to Dan's biology class this year! We were talking a little bit about marijauna use when Chris asked if I knew what they used to use as a pain reliever way back when. I wasn't really sure exactly and so he described what used to be called Tinctures of Opium, something that could once be found at a local drugstore. We then talked about how they slowly realized the addictive factor of this drug, as it was basically a mixture of alcohol and morphine, they attempted to change the composition and bonded two acetyl groups to it, with the idea that it would make it not only longer lasting and more effective, but, even better, non-addictive. They had created diacetylmorphine. Typing this into wikipedia (which Chris, of course, told me never to cite but considered it suitable for our discussion) it automatically redirected us to the page entitled: Heroin. Chris explained that the name actually derived from heroine, as it was meant to be a hero to the pharmaceutical industry. Of course, as we know, this didn't turn out quite as planned. However, what is appalling is the amount that we still use other descendants of this orginal, addicting drug, such as morphine, oxycodone, and vicodin. After looking up the amount of sales in this business, though, I can see why it is still around. This of course brought us back to the subject of marijuana. Looking at its benefits, it seems that it could theoretically be a great substitute for this other addictive drugs given the fact that marijuana is not physically addictive. It also is just as effective at relieving pain and actually has some cancer preventing benefits. The one problem is, however, the psychological effects, as it tends to make people rather inactive. We also talked about how exactly addiction works at synaptic level. Chris drew a familiar picture of a synapse and helped me recap the different chemicals involved here and the process of the neurotranmitters diffusing across the synaptic cleft to enter the open channels of the post-synaptic membrane and continue through that axon. When a drug comes into this, like heroin, it will block these channels and cause the mellow "high." At this point, as Chris described, the brain will realize that the potential of this pathway has decreased and in order to get back to resting potential it will compensate by opening new channels, increasing the usual number. But as the effects of the drug wear off and the usual channels reopen, the withdrawl phase begins because the resting potential has now increased due to the excess of channels. This will cause the user to then use the drug not only again, but in increasing quantity as to reach the same amount of high. Over time, either from over stimulation in the wihdrawl phase, or understimulation due to overdose, the most likely result would be death.

Knowing this, we circled back to alcohol, and here I learned something (a fact I might've missed in Dan's class, if so, sorry Dan) a little bit shocking. Chris explained that it worked similarly at the synaptic level, however, instead of being limited to specific receptors, it had the ability to act as water, and bond with almost any receptor. Looking at the chemical composition of the two, side by side, it was easy to see why, as they are very similar. After we talked about this for a bit, we ended for the day and I hurried back to work.


Day 3:

This post is so far way too long and so I am going to try and keep this short.

We are now basically up tp date. This morning I arrived a little early and, as I suspected may be the case, Chris was not yet there and his office was locked. I wasn't suprised not because it was early and I didn't think Chris would be there that early, but because last night he had shown me where the spare key was (In a walk in freezer!) and he wanted to be mean and make me go into to the freezer and retrieve it (he'd told me to get there between 9:30 and 10, when before he had simply said to get there sometime around 10). So after I unlocked it and put the key back in its hiding place, I went in and left Chris a note that I was going to go get coffee in the cafe and then be back. Of course, it didn't take me a half an hour to do this, so I was still back before he was. Today we started out with the usual lab readings with the mice, and then I got to go get my badge! Now I am all official and stuff.

After lunch we returned to follow up with the mice and then as Chris input the data he explained more about his data. He showed me what he was inputting and then we took a look at the data and found an outlier (6-4, what a little drinker!) and so Chris showed me how to perform a q-test to see whether or not it was a usable number. Before I could even question whether or not it was really ethical to just throw away data that didn't fit, Chris explained that as he just wanted to look for a trend in the mice, he really only needed to look at the majority. He also went on to show me other ways that an outlier may affect the sigma, or error bars and used a bell curve to illustrate how he likes to look at the numbers within the range of 2 sigmas from the mean and anything too far from that is really just an outlier. He also explained a something new to me called SEM, or standard error of the mean. And he showed me who that is calculated as the sigma/N^(1/2). Basically, what I understand as the difference between the SEM and the sigma is that the sigma stands for the probable majority surrounding the mean, and the SEM encompasses the actual majority in relation to the mean.

After looking at the data and the calculations, we switched over to look at this in the form of a graph and Chris showed me how to make data appear to be more what you want it to look like (as an example of what not to ever do in science, of course). Using the results of todays drinking levels, which showed the multiple withdrawl group and control group as having extremely overlapping error bars, Chris showed me how, if he wanted to make these results seem more divergent, like he wants them to be in the end, he could hide the overlapping error bars and even hide the scale of the y-axis so that it appeared as if there was a significant difference between the two averages. This led, oddly enough, to our discussion of climate change and the movie "The Inconvenient Truth" because, as Chris explained, in the movie, most of their data was exactly as Chris just showed me, with the error bars and scale hidden, making the results seem more drastic. Chris has, however, seen the actual data from which that movie pulled and the error bars are quite large, seeing as the way in which they measure these different conditions, such as temperature and sea level, has varied quite a bit over time. The differences in sea level, for example, can be explained even by the fact that the recordings of the oldest data (sometime BC) is mostly guesswork and then even more recently it was dependant on someone looking as the level of the water based on the measurements on a pier, and now, they do it by satelite which is subject to huge error because there are so many factors that the satelites are dealing with. Temperature is a very similar case, as the ways in which it is measured has also changed numerously. As Chris and I discussed it, if anything, it seemed more and more apparent to me that the only way for a trend to really be concluded it to continue measuring everything the same way over a long period of time to see if we can really find a difference. Oh, and when we were talking about how they measure temperature now, that was also very interesting because Chris explained how they use the current between two types of metal and the voltage based on the temperature of the air. I would talk about it more, but I said that I would keep this short and so far it isn't. Chris wrapped this up going back to why he is keeping all factors of his experiment and his process the same because he wants to know that the only thing affecting the data is the mice and their reactions.

Tomorrow, sadly, I will not have as much time in the lab as I have to be at Catlin for the assembly, and then on Friday I am driving down for my first college volleyball tournament, but next week I will be back in the lab and at some point I even get to go over tothe Psychology dept. to learn more about what I will be doing there!

Wow. Way too long. Who even reads this? (hopefully not any english teachers, if so, I'm sorry for any grammar and spelling errors.)

Hi Dan! Pictures will come soon! Instead I actually wrote a thousand words...?