So after a year of cancelled conferences, meetings, and trips, I was absolutely chuffed when I found out during lockdown I’d been successful in obtaining a short-term scholarship by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) to fund a placement in the Nyström Lab at the Universitätsklinikum, Freiburg im Breisgau. Dr. Alex Nyström’s lab are experts in skin, more specifically the skin basement membrane, and have a focus on dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa. The work coming from this lab is really elegant and exciting, so if you haven’t read it already – you should!
The expertise in the lab, combined with the techniques and cell lines used, mean that it is a place perfect for this DAAD placement; I am very grateful to the responses I received from Dr. Nyström and Dr. Pauline Nauroy as well as the feedback they provided during the application process. During my time in Freiburg, I’ll be using some lentiviral constructs that I have made to overexpress LaNt α31 in normal human keratinocytes, and will be using these cells in organotypic skin-equivalent coculture models to investigate how different levels of LaNt influence basement membrane formation and deposition at early and late time points. This will really nicely compliment our 2D in vitro work, and help us to interpret the phenotype we see with my LaNt α31 transgenic mice.
Fast-forward to October. I flew out to Germany on Saturday 3rd, had my airport Covid-19 test (it came back negative within 24 hours), and I made my way to Freiburg from Frankfurt airport on Saturday afternoon. I arrived to Freiburg train station around 6 PM, and the first thing to notice is that Freiburg is such a beautiful city. It feels as if the whole town has been built around the forest, I have not been in another city so green. I walk to my new flat. This is the first real bit of culture shock I’ve experienced in years: It is normal in Germany to take your lights and lightbulbs with you when moving apartments. On it’s own, this isn’t a massive problem. But quite importantly, I needed to build the bed I’d ordered from Ikea. ‘Okay, I’ll just go to the shop’. Nope- I had to quarantine until my negative test result came. ‘Maybe I can ask somebody to pick up a light for me’. Nope- In Germany they ‘like to respect workers rights’; shops close on a Saturday and open again on Monday morning. Building a flat pack bed with 92 (yes, 92) screws with only the camera flashlight on my phone is not an experience that I would recommend.
However, the next day was a bit brighter and after my quarantine was over I was able to trek around the town and snap some nice photos. Over the course of the week I started collecting bis of furniture from around Freiburg (at one point I got caught in a storm carrying a bedside table 2km home) and now everything is pretty much sorted.
I started in the lab on the Monday, and so far everything is great. A whole bunch of different cell lines are up and running, and the first 2 sets of organotypic cocultures are set up. The people in the lab here have been extremely helpful and welcoming, and without them things would not be going so smoothly!
I’ll give another update when the placement is over and I (fingers crossed) have some really nice data from the organotypic cocultures! And finally I’d just like to give massive thanks to Dr. Nyström for agreeing to host me, Dr. Nauroy for literally everything from initially responding to my emails, to now showing me how everything works in the lab, the coculture techniques, and everything else! Also everyone else in the lab here. Also my PI Dr. Hamill for letting me do this placement, giving me feedback on my application, and really helping me focus my ideas, and other lab members Dr. Troughton and Liam Shaw for getting my reagents sent over after a bout of Covid-19 meant the weeks to get everything prepared were lost due to isolation combined with a bubble system! Finally I’m very grateful indeed to the DAAD for selecting my application and providing a stipend whilst I’m in Germany.
If any PhD students are interested in applying for the same grant, you can find the details here.