As the old saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words”.
Growing up in Indonesia, I have always been more interested in science subjects since primary school. Mathematics, biology and chemistry were my favourite subjects. However, my pathway on becoming a scientist was not straightforward. As a daughter of a GP father, his profession heavily influenced my childhood dream to become a doctor while my mom, a businesswoman, was not too keen. She could not continue her education after year 9 due to the discrimination against Chinese-Indonesian minority in Indonesia in the 1960s and so she always put my education as the most important thing. Another violent riot against Chinese minority in 1998 added more trauma to our family so she wanted me to go overseas to pursue a better education and future.
This led me to my arrival in Melbourne in 2007 and I started my bachelor of Biomedicine (majoring in Pathology) in 2008 at The University of Melbourne with my initial goal of continuing on to the MD program. Unfortunately, my grandmother had a stroke and suffered Alzheimer’s disease at the start of my first year university. There were and still are no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. This drove me to do research on this disease. I was accepted to a 12-week laboratory research project with Dr Sen Han, in the Department of Pathology at the University of Melbourne and I continued my honours year under the supervision of Dr Joe Ciccotosto in the same lab. During this time, I found that I really enjoyed research and so I decided to pursue my PhD instead of going into medicine. My project focused on finding the main culprit of Alzheimer’s disease using mouse cortical and hippocampal neuronal cell model. In particular, I investigated the binding of the toxic oligomeric species of amyloid beta protein on neuronal cells using fluorescence microscopy. Using fluorescently tagged amyloid beta protein, we can visualise the binding site and quantify the amount of amyloid beta bound on the neurons. We also showed that the amyloid beta is retrogressively transported from the axon to the soma on the neurons using microfluidic chamber. Blocking the binding of this toxic species prevented neuronal cell death. These would mean reduced binding of toxic amyloid beta oligomeric species on neurons can ameliorate neuronal cell death associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
In the third year of my PhD, I found out that my mom was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer. I was devastated and took some time off to take care of my mom. I almost gave up on my studies, but my mom kept on encouraging me to complete my PhD. In 2016, I completed my PhD and continued doing research on c-Jun N-terminal Kinase (JNK) protein nuclear transport on live cells using fluorescence confocal microscopy. The crossroads of my microscopy experience and my own personal experience with my mom’s cancer ultimately led me to my current role as an optical microscopist and as the second in charge (2IC) at the Centre for Advanced Histology and Microscopy (CAHM) in the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre with Dr Paul McMillan.
CAHM consists of 4 different platforms: optical microscopy, histology (including multiplex immunohistochemistry), electron microscopy and image analysis. My role involves managing the optical microscopy and image analysis platforms. Being 2IC also requires me to do a lot of technical trouble-shooting, assisting other CAHM staff and keeping up-to-date with new emerging technologies. Together with Dr Rejhan Idrizi, our multiplex immunohistochemistry specialist, we also collaborate with researchers to build customised multiplex fluorescence marker panels.
Many people ask me what they can use microscopy for in their project. There are many reasons to use this technique, but the simplest answer is to get that pretty picture! Microscopy allows you to visualise your targets of interest on your cell lines, tissue or animal models. Rather than having them only in numbers, you can see them and show them on presentation, thesis or publication. As the old saying goes “a picture is worth a thousand words”. So, if you are not sure if you need microscopy for your project, please do feel free to talk to one of us!
Figure 1. (Left) Microfluidic chamber was used to culture the soma and axon of neurons on separate compartments; (right) amyloid beta protein (green) was added on the axonal compartment and could be seen to bind to the axons and transported back to the neuronal cell body/soma compartment (blue) along the axonal processes (red) in the microchannel.
Dr Metta Jana is an optical microscopist and second-in-charge at the Centre for Advanced Histology and Microscopy at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. She leads the optical microscopy platform and has expertise in widefield, confocal microscopy and image analysis. She can be contacted by email at [email protected]
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