Week 6 : July 7th - July 13th, 2014

Approximately, 10 days from today (July 16), all 9 MHIRT students will be heading home.  In the this week’s up-dates, many of you expressed excitement about returning, but also sadness about leaving.

In Thailand, the group had a few days off due to a 4-day Buddhist holiday, during which the university and many businesses were closed.  So, Kendrick, Kriszel and Michellei had a few days to relax. They continue to make progress with their projects and we all look forward to hearing the results.  This week, among the three, Michellei has the most exciting research news.  She received the sequencing results for the 3 mosquito pools that were virus positive.  She reports “Pool 5 Blastn sequence was Ae. Aegypti A20 sequence containing a region similar to NS5 gene of Kamiti River virus and Pool 32 was [positive for] Quang Binh virus, both of which have previously been unknown in Thailand until now.”  “Quang Binh virus is an insect-only flavivirus that was discovered fairly recently in 2009 in Vietnam.  The virus was identified in Cx. Tritaeniorhynus mosquitoes in both Vietnam (2009) and China (2014), however all of Pool 29 mosquitoes are Cx. Vishnui.  I can’t tell you how excited Dr. Pornswan, the entomologist, and I are for these results and how lucky we feel!  We are currently confirming the sequences by sending the positive mosquito abdomens for sequencing on Thursday.”

In Cameroon, everyone seems to have “hit their stride” and are pushing to finish-up their research projects.  For example, Mateo reported that Tuesday was “Marathon day!  OH-MY-MERCY! Today, we processed 5 samples [cord blood]. We worked from approx. 9AM till 11:30PM. Considering that each sample is essentially multiplied by 5 since we’re stimulating with 4 antigens (PHA, MSP1, crude extract and tetanus toxoid), it took so long to centrifuge and incubate throughout the day, especially when we had to compete with everyone else to use either of the two centrifuge apparatuses.  At one point, we were absolutely gushing with sheer joy realizing we were almost done with the final step – preserving our samples with RNAlater. That’s the moment where I think I “scratched the record,” when I said, “Oh, wait a sec, don’t we have to count the PBMC?”  Basically about 12 more aliquots of dyed PBMCs had to be counted with the hemocytometer.  It was daunting to say the least! Nonetheless, we managed to finish late into the night.  I wanted to pass out cigars, light fireworks, uncork a bottle of champagne, and wave victoriously to an arena of spectators, for we had just completed and processed the target amount of samples for my project!”  Instead, “we simply called for a cab home, beelined to bed, and hit the sack.”  Well done Matt.

Chris and Shayne spend the week collecting data for their projects. Each had taken commercial kits with them. Chris has been searching for biomarkers that might help diagnosis the cause of fevers in children.  Shayne hopes to help determine if changes in the placenta associated with angiogenesis (formation of blood vessels) and hormonal growth factors (e.g., IGF, IGF-BP1) lead to low birthweight babies born to mothers who have HIV or malaria.  The basic question is: Does the HIV virus and malarial parasites cause the same pathology in the placenta that reduces the rate of fetal growth in utero or are the mechanisms different?  This is a large question and Shayne and Dr. A. Babakhanyan are hoping to obtain preliminary date.  So, this week Shayne and Chris screened samples (ah, so many Ependorf tubes) and began analyzing the results, which we are all looking forward to hearing soon. 

During this week, Dom continued collecting mosquitoes and trying to detect Flaviviruses using PCR. Unfortunately, the group does not have a positive control to use in optimizing the assay. The initial hope was that they would find a positive mosquito (or pool of mosquitoes) and use it to optimize the assay.  However, since the frequency of positive mosquitoes is likely to be low (e.g., in Thailand 3/300+ mosquitoes), the search could take a while. So, with negative results, it is unclear if the frequency if low or if the assay is not working.  So, Dom will bring some of the dead mosquitoes back with him of analysis.  FYI:  Dr. Nerurkar obtained a permit from CDC-P to import dead mosquitoes. Domenick presented a talk on his results. “Thanks for giving me a chance to speak.”

The remainder of this Newsletter is a series of personnel comments.

When Kriszel was asked what it is like to live in Bangkok, she replied “Living in a city with over 6 million people, we always have to deal with heavy traffic and crowded trains. We see junta from time to time, but we haven't seen any civil unrest (thankfully). Most people don't speak English, and Ken and I are often mistaken for being Thai. Even here at Mahidol, most of the grad students don't speak English, so the communication can become difficult at times. As for shopping at grocery stores, almost everything is in Thai, and very few places even sell American products. I've only seen one grocery store that sells international goods, and it was inside one of the high-end malls. It is more convenient, cheap even, to just buy food every day and bring it back to the room with us. The only time we use the kitchen is to heat up food or make tea.”

This week, Chris took Shayne’s place collecting placentas at Central Maternity. He reported “Though I enjoyed begin on the front lines of birth, I noted the lack of a health system and subpar medical care.”  MHIRT students, please think about this statement as it is something we want to address during the post-research workshop.  He also noted “There was a 18 year old woman who was pregnant with twins, but was suffering from a neurological emergency.  Her eyes were haphazard in movement, and she was in a coma-like state; the doctors had not started treatment because the patient’s family was not present to offer payment of services.”  This is a good example of health disparities between countries.  During the post research workshop, let’s talk about situations you encountered and why the difference exists.  Also, I hope to have Rosie Monardo, MD, who works at Kapiolani Women’s Center and spent time in Cameroon and Roxanne Kewalo, MD who runs the Waiinai Clinic for Women help us understand why health disparities exist.

Shayne wrote that “I think we are all starting to miss home a little bit (haha!).” So they picked up some frozen chicken nuggets, canned marinara sauce, some vanilla ice cream, and American cola.” and watched the World Cup Semifinals.  “It was a good way to end a long day. :)”

Previously, Kendrick took a break and reported he “attended the Bangkok Comic Con where I had a great seat during a video conference with actors Stephen Amell (“Arrow” on CW) and Ian Somerhalder (“Vampire Diaries”).  I had a great time taking pictures and just being part of Bangkok’s modern history since this was their first time doing it.” Here is a picture of Kendrick “with two characters from “Game of Thrones” at the Bangkok Comic Con.

Final thoughts:  Please send me your idea for topics for the post-research workshop.  We want the workshop to be a combination of “discussion of your cultural and research experiences” and “how to” (e.g., write a good report). Let us know what you think would be meaningful and helpful for you.


Enjoy the last week.