This takes place in a laboratory and often involves some component of bimolecular chemistry, physics and animal or cell-models. The Principal Investigator (PI) is focusing on a very narrow and specific area of interest. For example, a specific portion of a protein involved in a disease state or targeted by pharmaceuticals, a unique gene mutation that causes a desired or undesired phenotype, a specific cellular component of a unique immune response to certain antigens.
This type of research focuses on the details to help explain the broad picture of a disease pathogenesis, biological response to specific stimuli or elucidate unknown details to a widely seen biochemical response. Often the research project is well-established around a specific topic and there are several smaller experiments occurring concurrently to help answer several broader questions.
In a lab focused on concurrent HIV and Tuberculosis infections, there might be several questions being answered at the same time: In the immunocompromised immune response of HIV-patients, what cells play the most important role in Mycobacterium tuberculosis infections? Is there a specific protein that is vital? How does the bacterial organism interact with specific cells in the host-response? What happens in a concurrent infection with a flu-like virus? What happens if one of the cytokines involved in normal response is up-regulated or down-regulated or knocked-out all together?
In this type of lab there are multiple roles to be played. If there is an animal or cell based model, there is media and care required to maintain these vital research participants. If there are mutations to be created, DNA sequencing and mutating and monitoring must be done. If there is animal analysis to be done, there is dissections and tissue analysis to be done either manually through a microscope or utilizing protein/DNA/RNA analysis via ELISA, gel-electrophoresis or Western/ Southern/Northern blotting.
These labs are often well-established and have multiple personnel involved at various levels.
Your role as a new student researcher will play into one or more of the research projects involved. This is up to you and your PI to arrange in detail. Be prepared to help make solutions, count cells, clean animal cages, dissect and prepare tissue slides, wash dishes and analyze numbers. Some labs have paid people that do many of these vital components, while in others, everyone pitches in to help.
Because many of these labs require knowledge of several lab techniques, meticulous note taking skills and deep understanding of the research’s specific topic, there is a substantial time commitment. The benefit is a thorough understanding of the incredible science and powers of research to help solve some of the most vital questions about our bodies and a glimpse into the world behind the words in our textbooks.