My life in the wonderful world of science and discovery would see me make a daily trip to an abattoir in North Melbourne to collect a bovine trachea. It was my honours year at the University of Melbourne and I was studying the effect of oestrogen and its metabolites on airway smooth function. From bovine trachea, my project moved on to guinea pig trachea. I don’t know what was worse, the morning trip to the abattoir or the morning ritual of having to euthanize a guinea pig in a gas chamber. My honours year was a success and I moved on to study for a PhD, this time working with rats in the field of liver tissue engineering. For someone with a phobia of animals I vowed that I would never work on project involving animals again.
Luckily, my first post-doctoral position at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in 2008 was an entirely in vitro project working with human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. The discovery of iPS cells by a Japanese scientist two years prior was seen as major scientific breakthrough, opening up exciting possibilities for studying and treating disease. The noble prize-winning discovery allowed scientists to take somatic cells from patients, and reprogram them into an undifferentiated or “pluripotent” state meaning they can be converted into any cell type in the human body. Although growing iPS cells was a laborious process and entailed long hours in the lab working through weekends and holidays, it was extremely exciting and rewarding to finally see beating heart cells in a petri dish that were derived from the skin of an 86 year old! During my second post-doc at The Florey Institute of Neuroscience & Mental Health, I explored the role of epidermal growth factor signalling in post mortem schizophrenic brains.
After a two-year break from research to live abroad, I joined the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre as a histologist in the Centre for Advanced Histology and Microscopy (CAHM) to lead the immunohistochemistry platform. CAHM is one of the nine core facilities at PeterMac and houses four key platforms including histology, microscopy, electron microscopy and image analysis. Core facilities are an integral component of the research ecosystems, enabling scientists to achieve the data they require and to have access to high-end instrumentation and cutting edge technologies. In my role, I support PeterMac researchers as well as external clients to achieve their staining and imaging goals, predominantly in an area known as OPAL multiplex immunohistochemistry. This technology employs the Vectra imaging system, which combines machine learning and multispectral unmixing, to allow the simultaneous detection of up to seven immune markers within a single paraffin tissue section. CAHM has recently acquired funding for the Polaris, a higher throughput imaging system, enabling detection of up to nine immune markers. Furthermore, automation with our Leica Bond Rx reduces the staining time from three days on the bench to an overnight run.
Multiplexed imaging technologies have emerged in recent years as a powerful tool to study the tumour microenvironment. They provide a comprehensive insight into the interaction and crosstalk between tumour and immune cells, allowing for the discovery of novel predictive biomarkers for cancer therapy. The GeoMx Digital Spatial Profiler (Nanostring) and Co-detection by Indexing (CODEX) (Akoya) are two new high level multiplexing platforms which will be available at CAHM and allow researchers to visualise and quantify in excess of fifty protein targets in tissue sections with spatial context.
The process of collaborating, providing guidance and high quality flexible services is what I enjoy most about my role. People are doing very exciting science here at PeterMac, and it is great to be part of it. I never know who is going to email me next and say, I would like to develop an OPAL panel in this tissue and in this context. It is challenging and rewarding being part of the world class Peter Mac and CAHM team driving the IHC service and the core values of excellence, compassion and innovation!
Dr Rejhan Idrizi is a Histologist at the Centre for Advanced Histology and Microscopy at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. She leads the immunohistochemistry platform and has expertise in OPAL multiplexing, multispectral fluorescence imaging and image analysis. She can be contacted by email at [email protected]