JUSTL Participant: Mr Harvey Yin Seng Chan
Mr Harvey Yin Seng Chan is a PhD student in Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore working in the laboratory of structural biologist, Dr Sara Sandin. He obtained his MPhil degree in early 2015 from the Division of Life Science, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, under the supervision of Professor Andrew L. Miller, where he conducted morphometric analysis of, and characterised the calcium signals generated by, human embryonic stem cell-derived cardiomyocyte progenitor cells.
Mr Chan is just about to enter the final year of his PhD studies in Dr Sandin’s laboratory at NTU. He is investigating the spatial packaging of nucleosomes into heterochromatin as a first step in understanding the organisation of chromatin in eukaryotic cells. His project involves using correlative light-electron microscopy (CLEM) to visualise the structure of heterochromatin in vivo in a human adult somatic cell line. With an FEI CorrSight microscope platform, the cells are first imaged via spinning disk confocal or wide-field fluorescence microscopy. They are then ultra-microsectioned for imaging under the electron beam. The images acquired via the two different imaging modalities (i.e., fluorescence plus electron microscopy) are then correlated manually. In the somatic cell line that Mr Chan uses, for example, proteins that are known to play a role in maintaining the structure of heterochromatin are tagged with both enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) and ascorbate peroxidase 2 (APEX2) for visualisation with fluorescence and electron microscopy (EM), respectively. The fluorescence images allow Mr Chan to identify and localise specific regions of interest in the cells, whereas the EM-derived images provide higher resolution information about the heterochromatin, for further subsequent analysis.
Mr Chan was a participant in the 2014 JUSTL programme. He was jointly mentored by the JUSTL Director, Professor Andrew L. Miller (Division of Life Science, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology), Mr Alan Shipley (Applicable Electronics, New Haven, CT, USA), Dr Alessandro Rubinacci (San Raffaele Hospital, Milan, Italy) and Professor Paola Divieti-Pajevic (Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, USA). Mr Chan was involved in setting up and running the instrumentation used for conducting the Scanning Vibrating Electrode Technique (SVET). This equipment was designed by Mr Shipley and is used for measuring voltage potential differences in the extracellular environment around cells and tissues in a non-invasive manner. In addition to setting up the equipment, Mr Chan was shown by Dr Rubinacci and Professor Divieti-Pajevic how to dissect the metacarpal bone from mouse posterior limbs prior to measuring calcium ion fluxes via the Scanning Ion-selective Electrode Technique (SIET).
Mr Chan described his experience in the JUSTL programme as being unique. The MBL had just recently merged with the University of Chicago, and Mr Chan recalls a large number of scientists at the MBL both from within the US and from around the world, so “it was a fantastic opportunity to network both with students and with faculty.” He enjoyed talking about science in a relaxed environment, and being introduced to the projects that other people are interested in and the different techniques that are being used. He was especially interested in finding out about equipment that was newly launched as this is where companies show-case their new lines. He told me that from this point of view, there is nowhere quite like the MBL.
Mr Chan still keeps in contact with the other JUSTL participants from 2014, as well as various other people who he met while at the MBL. These include bioinformatics experts, Özcan Esen (from Professor A. Murat Eren’s laboratory, University of Chicago), and Doğancan Özturan (from Professor Nathan Lack’s laboratory, Koç University School of Medicine, Istanbul, Turkey and Vancouver Prostate Centre, Vancouver, Canada). This is also where he met Dr Jennifer Morgan (Director of the Eugene Bell Center, MBL) who runs the Frontiers in Stem Cells and Regeneration Advanced Training course at the MBL. Indeed, it was chatting with Dr Morgan that inspired Mr Chan to apply for this course and he was fortunate to be accepted on the course that ran during autumn 2015.
In addition to his research project, Mr Chan also attended various lectures, seminars and workshops. One series of workshops that Mr Chan found to be very useful and interesting was called “Shaping and Understanding Career Choices in Education, Science and Self (SUCCESS).” In these, he said that participants learned how to ‘survive’ in the academic environment, including how to set up a laboratory and how to prepare grants. They also provided networking advice and job searching skills specific for academia and industry.
Mr Chan was also given the opportunity to go on a plankton collection field trip with students participating full-time on the Embryology course. Together, they went out to sea in the MBL’s specimen collecting vessel, Gemma, and collected the larvae of various different organisms such as crab, lobster and squid. They also brought up a number of species from the sea bed including sea stars and whelks, which were taken back to the MBL for further investigation.
All in all, Mr Chan found his time at the MBL to be a unique experience and one that he’ll never forget. He said that “the MBL has been around for over a hundred years and being able to do research over the summer in such a prestigious institution has been phenomenal.”