Virology Research Abroad

I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunity that I have to do research with the group Virus Emergentes y Enfermedad (VIREM) in Universidad del Valle sede San Fernando! My mentor Dr. Beatriz Parra Patriño, a virologist, and other mentors have been so helpful and open to teaching and showing me new techniques and knowledge.

I chose Universidad del Valle because I wanted to learn more about public health and the different aspects involved in research. VIREM prides themselves in investigating diseases that affect the Colombian community and that piqued my interest. Specifically, the research being conducted about diseases such as chikungunya, dengue, and zika interested me. Dr. Parra Patiño is conducting researching that involves establishing and confirming the epidemiological trend of people with the aforementioned diseases having neurological health issues after being infected.

I have been very lucky because Dr. Parra Patiño is allowing me to participate and see various aspects of the research. I have been learning the ins and outs of having your own research team and the many aspects of research that are not talked about. I am so glad that I am because I am getting the complete picture of what it’s like to be a researcher conducting their own experiment! I have gone to meetings that discuss the research project. It was eye-opening to see the amount of people that work on one research project and their different specialties. I also packaged kits to send out to the areas in Colombia that have been affected by these diseases. I helped the VIREM group make kits for a control group, an experimental (affected) group, and follow up kits for old and new patients. Lastly, I had to read and setup a summarized procedure for the laboratory and for my future work with enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent (ELISA) kits. I did not know that when kits came, the instructions were not as clear as I am used to in my laboratory manuals.

Kits for the Affected Cities in Colombia

In the laboratoy, I have also gotten to work with Liliana, an immunologist, who taught me to extract mononuclear cells from peripheral blood samples. I have gotten to use a pipette filler and serological 5ml pipettes. The pipette filler was very hard to use and took practice. I’m glad that I got the experience to work with a new machine! These mononuclear then go through the process of RNA extraction and PCR amplification. I have worked with Yhensy Zuluaga, a bacteriologist, extracting RNA and conducting RT(reverse transcript)-PCR in real time from two blood samples that were received from various hospitals.

Obtaining Patient Serum to use in real time RT-PCR
Preparation to Setup a 96-Well Plate for Real Time RT-PCR
First Steps to Separate Mononuclear Cells from Peripheral Blood Samples

My mentor noticed that I am really good at laboratory work and wanted me to get more theory behind the laboratory techniques that I have been doing. She also wanted to prepare me for the ELISA technique I will be doing this coming week. My mentor is allowing me to audit the immunodiagnostics class. I was surprised that I understand the experiments and the reasons for each step of the reactions being realized. I realized that I have a very strong laboratory basis and biochemical understanding of each of the reactions! I just need to learn a lot more of the immunological aspect of research conducted in public health. This class has made me more confident in my ability and has confirmed that I do want to study diseases in the future. I realized that instead of epidemiological work, I want to do research and laboratory work involving public health. 

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