A budding researcher is bringing the secrets of stem cells into sharp focus.
“It’s a continual process of uncovering the unknown,” Christina said when asked about what draws her to science.
And intrigued by what makes adult stem cells tick, Christina’s curiosity found a home when she first joined the Hobbs lab at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) through a UROP placement in 2016.
Christina embarked on a project investigating different protein molecules belonging to the Tsc22-domain family, thought to exist in adult stem cells and to play a role in their development. After taking cross sections of mouse testes and staining the tissue with fluorescent molecules which attach to different proteins, she could visualise – under a microscope – whether these proteins were located in stem cells. Christina discovered that one protein in this family was present in testis stem cells, and could track its location in the cell.
Stepping into a research lab for the first time during her UROP placement only strengthened Christina’s passion for science. “I love coming into the lab early in the morning to start an experiment. It gets me focused and ready for the day ahead,” she said.
But it’s not just the techniques – Christina gets a kick out of thinking independently. When her supervisor Robin Hobbs asked her to review her data halfway through her placement and propose what experiments she wanted to do next, she met the challenge head on.
“It was a really interesting experience to look back at all the work I had done and realise just how much data I had collected!” Christina recalls. She adds that it was “an important moment, because I realised that the process of review is vital as a researcher in order to keep your project in perspective.”
Christina’s independent thinking and ownership of her project shone brightly at the 2016 UROP Conference Day, where she presented her results – and won the prize for best presentation in the Biomedical Category.
She says this day was one of the highlights of her placement. “Getting my work out there and communicating it effectively to others was a challenge, but in the end it was a really rewarding experience,” she said.
Christina is currently completing her UROP project and will embark on an Honours project in the same lab at ARMI next year. She has landed right where she wants to be.
“I feel like every researcher has the chance to uncover their own puzzle piece of knowledge, however big or small that may be,” she said. “Either way, we all contribute to the bigger picture of understanding life itself.”
Fluorescent images, such as this stained cross section of a mouse testis (above), allow Christina to track proteins to their location in tissues.
Image credits: Christina Gangemi | Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute