Week 4 : June 23rd - June 29th, 2014

Many of the students reported “time is flying by!”  Alas, they have completed 4 weeks and only ~3.5 weeks remain before they return home.  This week appears to be a “turning” point for many of the projects, as everyone has begun to figure out the “what, where when, and how (☺)” they are going to do their projects.  Clearly, there is nothing like hands-on experience to figure things out.

Research Related

The vector biology projects had a great week, with successes in Thailand and Cameroon!  In Thailand, after processing 220 mosquitoes this week and pooling mosquito heads into 22 pools, Michellei found 2 samples that were PCR-positive using Flavivirus primers.  She wrote, “Chung and I were screaming in the room – finally after more than 300 mosquitoes 3 positive pools!”  Clearly, something to shout about!  After consulting the literature, Michellei speculates the mosquitoes might be infected with Japanese encephalitis (JE), since “it is one of the flavivirus known in Thailand and Cx. vishnui is an important vector for this disease, especially when pig farms and rice fields are in close proximity to each other.”  In Cameroon, Domenick and the vector biology team was successful in collecting eggs in the field and rearing them into pupae, larvae and adults in the lab. So far, they have 200 adult mosquitoes to study.  Domenick helped isolate DNA from the mosquitoes and will test them for flavivirus by PCR.  It will be interesting to compare the prevalence of flavivirus-positive mosquitoes in Thailand and Cameroon. While collecting field samples, they found Aedes, Culex and Anopheles breeding in the same container, which was unexpected.  They have subsequently found additional sites with all three species co-inhabiting. Being interested in animal behavior, Domenick looked for differences in species preference among in micro-environments within the container.  With the advice of his US mentor, Estelle Martin, he sought to determine what other organisms were living in the water containers and how they might influence larval development.  He collected some “plant life” from the container and “...began to grow a brew of indigenous aquatic microorganisms” in the lab.  When he observed the aquatic brew under the microscope, “I observed that an Aedes (could be Culex but think it’s Aedes right now) egg oviposited and hatched right amidst the algal community. The algae are providing a substrate for the egg to affix itself to, and the single cellular organisms are providing initial nutrition for the first instar.”  Cool.  Maybe he found a better way to rear Aedes in the lab.  On a slightly different note, Domenick wanted to document his observation with photos. He found a microscope with camera system in the lab that looked new, but no one knew how to use it. Dom found the cable to connect the scope to the computer, called the company and got them to send the program (for free), and, Smile, the Biotechnology Center now has a way to photograph the results they see under the microscope and email them to us.  The photograph shows Domenick’s algal culture.  My personal thanks go to Dom for getting the scope to work.


Chris and Kriszel spent a lot of time in the lab this week.  In Cameroon, Chris is looking at biomarkers that might help differentiate between diseases that cause fever.  Last week’s newsletter reported that Chris had learned to use the MagPix system to detect CRP in serum samples of children with fevers. This week, he extended his studies to measuring IL-27.  In Thailand, Kriszel continued her search of enteric viruses.  She reports, “This week, I ran 50 pig samples for Multiplex RT-PCR twice and found at least 16 infections.” The markers indicated infection of Norovirus GI, Norovirus GII, and a co-infection of Norovirus GII and astrovirus.  However, these gels have yet to be cut and sent for DNA sequencing.”  C&K, remember to use PPE.

Shayne and Kendrick had similar weeks reading, shadowing physicians, and interacting with patients.  In Cameroon, Shayne learned to make blood smears (see photos) to determine if a person is infected with malaria or not.  She spent one night in the delivery room and was disappointed when only 3 babies were born.  However, one of the mothers did consent to participate. On Wednesday she presented her project at the weekly seminar at the Biotechnology Center.  After the presentation, she says “It still wasn’t very clear to me [what I was doing] when I initially arrived, but now I know exactly what I am doing and what my project entails.”  Sounds familiar, guys!  Kendrick continued working on his paper, but changed his working title to “The Role of Anal Human Papillomavirus Infection, Persistence, and Clearance in the Acquisition of HIV,” with the encouragement of his mentor and the fact that “I found a [review] paper ... published in 2012. ... that is very close to what I was writing a draft for.”  Although it takes a large amount of work to learn and read so much literature, Ken says “Despite that, I’m excited in trying to bridge an understanding of epidemiology and immunology in the paper since most papers are usually heavy on one side.”  He also shadowed Dr. Nittaya at the HIV Mother to Child Transmission (MTCT) clinic, and admires the ease of interaction between Dr. N and her patients.

 After waiting for cord blood samples, Mateo and Sam are beginning to have some luck.  Mateo reported, “Sam allowed me to elicit volunteer participation in French! I was able to convey the basic objectives of my research project and state my purpose in who I was and why I was at the clinic.  It was a moment whereby I felt I was able to establish a more personnel connection to the project and also take on an active role in the data collection process. Although I struggled through the communication, in the end, the patient agreed to participate and even complimented my on my French pronunciation!” Way to go, Matt.  He also commented that it took all day to process their samples and set up the in vitro cultures.  He even came to the lab on Saturday. Alas, science doesn’t distinguish between week days, weekends and holidays. 

Cultural experiences: On June 21-23, the Cameroonian group traveled to Bamenda.  Last week, we promised you pictures, so here they are.  On Sunday June 22, the Thai group ate at the Royal Dragon Restaurant, the Guinness world record holder for largest restaurant in the world until 2008.  It seats 5,000 people and offers Thai, Chinese, Japanese and European food.  This Saturday, they “visited Ayutthaya, the ancient Thai city described in its’ prime as the “Venice of the East.”  It was sacked by the Burmese in 1767 and abandoned, and Banokok …became the new capital. What remains at Ayutthaya is mainly in ruins, with over 200 temples on the island.”  The rest of Michellei’s description of the day is wonderful, but will have to wait until everyone is back in Hawai’i.  We’ll highlight their photos next week. Thanks everyone for the pictures. Keep them coming.