One of the most popular children’s books of all time is about a puppy with a mind of his own – The Poky Little Puppy. No matter what he was supposed to do, the puppy did its own thing in its own time. Students in Dr. Heidi DiFrancesca’s capstone research course have been experiencing a similar phenomenon with the cells used in their research.
Dr. D’s students decided to spend the semester testing chemicals reported to influence the growth of cancer cells. However, the breast cancer cells purchased for use have made this difficult – they have been poky little puppies that have grown slowly and unpredictably, making experimentation impossible. It is hard to plan out experiments when the cells to be used have “a mind of their own”.
For several weeks, the faculty here in Abilene, suppliers of the cells, and experts elsewhere have puzzled over how this could be – the medium used, the atmosphere supplied, the conditions used have all been exactly as prescribed. Recently, however, we replaced the CO2 incubator’s tank and found the problem in the regulator reading and the amount of CO2 provided in the initial tank purchased. Now the cells are growing well and students are able to proceed in their work.
What have they learned this semester? Don’t take anything for granted. Research doesn’t always go smoothly. What you read in a paper often only tells a fraction of the work and problem-solving that makes for good research. Good thinking and persistence win out over tough problems. These are often as important lessons as any learned in conducting research. I can guarantee that their graduation into research labs or biotech/forensic labs or health professions programs will be met with fewer frustrations and surprises than those students who have never been asked to do more than canned lab experiments.