Patricia Ernst, an ISEH member, recently traveled to Germany and with the aid of many fellow ISEH members was able to complete some important work in Germany thanks to her ISEH Connections.
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By: Patricia Ernst, ISEH Board of Directors
Recently we came across a major question in our work that we thought could be answered using a unique mouse model generated by a lab in Germany, headed by Prof. A. Francis Stewart. Although I was a fan of the lab’s published work, I did not really know anyone there. My PhD student, Yufei Chen, felt that this animal model might be critical for her thesis work, yet when we considered what it would take to import the animals, it seemed impractical to request the strain, go through quarantine, back-cross, intercross, etc. So we decided to ask Francis if we could come to his lab in Germany, work with the strain, generate some transformed cell lines and send them back the U.S. for further characterization. He welcomed us, but some of the techniques we planned were not routinely performed by their group, so access to the proper TC hoods, reagents, Miltenyi magnets, etc. might not be easy. Bringing an entire suitcase of reagents also did not seem practical. So on a whim, I checked the ISEH membership to see if anyone I knew in the field was located in Dresden, and I found Claudia Waslkow, who I also did not know but had seen at ISEH meetings. So again on a whim, I emailed her and asked if we might be able to use her equipment to do the experiment – luckily she was thoroughly welcoming about the idea and in fact had a collaboration ongoing with Francis’ lab. Since Yufei’s visa status made it tough for her to go to Europe, I decided to do it myself and started making the preparations. Members of Claudia’s institute were instrumental in helping me throw together a travel and lodging plan, which was tough for me since there are a number of German holidays in May that I did not know about, and since I do not speak or read German, some hotel web sites were Greek to me. An administrator in Claudia’s institute (Julia Seifert) found a nice family run hotel within walking distance that was affordable and kindly set up the reservation for me.
Then in the planning process I started to become aware that it might not be so simple to just mail ahead all the reagents that I needed for the experiment. Here, two other ISEH members were instrumental in helping me make sure this worked out smoothly. Hartmut Geiger (ISEH member) had a lot of experience shipping things back and forth to Germany and even staff in his lab in Cincinnati (Kalpana Nattamai) helped me tremendously with how precisely to label and package biological materials to ensure that there were no delays in the shipping process. The remaining challenge was shipping viral supernatants-I was very worried that if they got hung up in customs, the entire trip would fall apart. So Mick Milsom (ISEH member), already located within Germany, was kind enough to send to Dresden some of his precious viral supernatant so I could ensure everything was in place when I got there. This worked beautifully, and with some help ordering via the unfamiliar European offices of Stem Cell Technology and Miltenyi, I got everything in place just barely as I arrived in Dresden. Aside from some Lufthansa problems, I managed to get there, find my way into the lab and get set up with all the shipped materials, find the mice from Francis’ lab and borrow whatever else was needed from Claudia’s lab. Once there, Kristin Arndt, a postdoc in Claudia’s lab helped me tremendously to my way in an unfamiliar building, get all the reagents together and show me where the relevant equipment was. I managed to squeeze in a seminar, as well as quick tourism with Claudia on the weekend! Despite running out of Euros, having my ATM card turned off, and having my departure reservation “disappeared” from the Lufthansa system, I managed to get back home where then Kristin and Julia shipped on dry ice some of the materials I generated while in Claudia’s lab. Later, Kerstin Schmidt, a PhD student working with Francis and Konstantinos Anastassiadis, confirmed the genotypes after I was back in the U.S. and sent me the data so I could feel sure that in the fog of jetlag I did not mix up samples.
There were a lot of challenges and barriers to setting up this experiment but the amazing thing is that for each challenge, help from a scientist overcame those barriers. I could not have set up this elaborate plan without the structure of ISEH to look up like-minded hematologists by region and could not have pulled off the whole experiment without significant effort from ISEH scientists. From borrowing everything in Claudia’s lab, to help from students and postdocs getting in and out of the institute when I needed, to help from Mick and Hartmut to find the best ways to get materials to Germany, there were so many people who were critical in this plan. I wanted to share this story with ISEH members, particularly trainees, because it illustrates how the “ISEH family” helps each other even without ongoing collaborations or tangible reasons to be helpful. ISEH scientists just share a motivation to get experiments accomplished! I think ISEH selects for this type of individual and that is why I found it so easy to reach out and ask to borrow things and camp out in people’s labs halfway across the globe. One just cannot put a value on this type of networking-even though I may never get the chance to truly repay all the people who helped me, I feel confident that I can “give back” in a way through the ISEH network through who knows what kind of future activities!