Summer Student Research 2019/2020: Developing an Eye for Ocular Cell Biology and Pathology

This summer, a group of local UNSW and international students participated in a short laboratory research program (Save Sight Institute) with guidance from Associate Professor Michele Madigan. The research experience aimed to introduce students to all aspects of human eye cell biology and pathology, with hands-on participation in laboratory-based techniques.

Summer Collage

The 2019/2020 student research group comprised: Max Nguyen (Optometry and Vision Science UNSW), Sally Chung (Medicine UNSW and Science Faculty Summer Scholarship awardee), Eline Schippers (visiting medical student, Leiden University Medical School, The Netherlands) and Indrani Datta (volunteer researcher, recently graduated from King’s College London, UK). Stanley Wu (Scientia PhD Student, Optometry and Vision Science UNSW) also kept an eye on the group and his support is gratefully acknowledged. Thank you to all the group for such great enthusiasm and lively interactions.

During the summer weeks, the group learned about gross and microscopic anatomy of the human eye, what’s involved in paraffin embedding and sectioning of eye tissue, stains for different cells and surrounding tissues, and immunohistochemistry staining for proteins in melanocytes. Digital imaging, light microscopy and confocal microscopy of eye tissues and cells were also a highlight, examining eye melanocytes (pigmented cells), and iris and choroid naevi (pigmented spots – like freckles – in the eye).

The students poured gels and ran immunoblots and conducted ELISA experiments to analyse if stimulated eye melanocytes secreted certain inflammatory proteins (and yes, they did!). There was also time to learn methods for growing eye melanocytes and eye tumour cells - part of our laboratory research on eye inflammation and eye tumours (funded by Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation and The Ophthalmic Research Institute of Australia).

In between all this, the group also enjoyed some research journal discussions, a visit to The Lions NSW Eye Bank and NSW Organ and Tissue Donor Service and meeting other researchers and students over several splendid morning teas and lunches.

“During my UNSW Science Vacation scholarship, I had the opportunity to observe and take part in research under the supervision of Associate Professor Michele Madigan. … Prior to this learning endeavour, I had minimal understanding of the eye; as such my time here was invaluable, during which I was able to expand upon my knowledge of eye anatomy, as well as learn various laboratory skills and techniques. These include dissection and macrophotography, conducting Western Blots and ELISAs, embedding and preparing slides, growing cell cultures, and utilising various technologies such as light and laser confocal microscopy. More broadly, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of how research is conducted in a professional institute, which will surely aid me in my research aspirations. Aside from research, I was also able to befriend amazing people with whom I had much fun both inside and outside of the lab! Overall, it was a wonderful learning experience through which I was able to gain a greater appreciation of the human eye and cell biology; for this, I must thank Associate Professor Madigan for her knowledge, patience and guidance.” (Sally Chung UNSW Summer Scholarship Student)