We recently caught up with Dr. Ellen Podivinsky one of the winners from the QuantStudio 3 qPCR Connectivity Grant Program held at the end of 2015. The new Applied Biosystems™ QuantStudio™ 3 Real-Time PCR System allows you to remotely monitor your runs, access results, and collaborate with colleagues anywhere, anytime when connected to the Thermo Fisher Cloud, and in the grant program we challenged researchers to let us know how they would take advantage of the connectivity. A group of four researchers, including Ellen, submitted proposals for the grant and highlighted that at the time they did not have the funding for their own Real–Time PCR instrument and spent a lot of time traveling to use equipment at collaborating universities.
Ellen is a Program Manager working with colleagues Kevin Stewart and Sandra Moorhead at WINTEC (Waikato Institute of Technology). They are working to put a program together where they can share molecular resources, equipment and collaborate on a biomolecular platform at the institute. WINTEC is one of New Zealand’s leading institutes of technology.
Kevin’s research focuses on looking at signaling pathways in the pancreas that may be associated with diabetes and also looking at signaling molecules between the alpha and beta cell that make pancreatic islets. Kevin’s research will primarily focus on exploring molecular spatial relationships.
Environmental hormones are chemicals that can enter the body and mimic endogenous hormones and thereby disrupt the functions of hormones that are naturally secreted by the body. Ellen’s research focuses on understanding the impact of exposure to environmental hormones by studying the mechanisms by which pollutants or natural compounds act to disrupt reproductive systems.
Sandra’s research focuses on ways to stop microbes from getting into our foods. As antibiotics have become less useful as a means for controlling bacteria, Sandra is looking at alternative ways to control microbes that play a role in human illnesses and can contaminate food. She plans on using the Real–Time PCR instrument to look at variance or survivable genes and if they are up- or down-regulated. Her future studies will focus on probiotics and viruses in humans.
I had the pleasure to speak with Ellen, Sandra and Kevin about their experience with the QuantStudio 3 instrument and what winning the grant really meant for them and their research.
Working together and sharing resources:
KEVIN: Well we have what it takes to make a good team and I think we are already a reasonably good team. In terms of the rate at which we can carry out these experiments, just like everybody we too suffer from the same constraints of funding and we also do a lot of teaching so we don’t have as much research time as we would like. But we’ll have to make some good progress.
SWATI (Interviewer): Yeah I mean it’s good that you’re able to work together as a team. How did you come to apply for the grant?
KEVIN: Well it was funny because we had been applying for our capital expenditure grant for a couple of years with no success. And somebody saw this on your site and this email came around saying, “The answer to all our prayers.”
SANDRA: We had already determined that even though our research focuses are in different areas, there is one thing that we all needed, so we went and tried to follow it and this is just what we were looking for.
ELLEN: Each of us have other collaborators around the world and so yes it definitely becomes easier to share data. And as Kevin said, we had quite a difficult road. So the ability to be able to access that data from different places and analyze it and things like not being tied to being in the lab at one particular location – those sorts of things really help and reduce logistical challenges.
KEVIN: I’ve also been looking for ways of reducing my travel to collaborators that I work with, they are two and half hours drive away from the Institute and if I can reduce some of that travel it will be very good. Having the instrument also gives us more credibility for those collaborations that we have something that we can even maybe offer them. They don’t all have that capability, like the other universities. I think it’s exciting for us.
Installation, training and first instrument experience
SANDRA: [Nicky, our field application scientist] came and streamlined it for us in the time that we had available. It could have been much longer, but actually, I think we all got a really good hand on it. She showed us hands on here in the lab and then gave us a presentation, which reinforced what she’d shown us in the lab. So it was perfect really.
KEVIN: I was impressed with the instrument. It looked very flashy looking at the graphics and things and I can see that it’s not going to be very difficult to program, even I can see how that was working. And I know a little bit about the principles of PCR and all that.
ELLEN: Sandy and I have both used Real–Time PCR quite extensively before so there was that opportunity to have a full day workshop but we decided that half a day was better for us.. And certainly, I’m impressed with the fact that we’ll have the opportunity to have ongoing input because it’s as you go on and do things that you find the little things that you need to sort out or whatever.
Life before the instrument: What was it like before you got the instrument?
ELLEN: Well we had to go off site to do anything and so I either go to the other side of our city or I would go to another part of the country. That’s difficult!
SWATI (Interviewer): Did you have to ship your samples ahead of time?
ELLEN: Yes, some of them got shipped at times on dry ice. Some I carried in my suitcase with me. You need to have a block of time to be able to plan and you need to know that the experiments are going to be in the right phase and several other logistics. So with the instrument in the lab, it would make life a lot easier.
Also I think it will make it easier for us to get research assistant help. I mean now we can actually apply for funding because we can have research assistants on site here to help us with things. Whereas if you’re having to travel somewhere else to actually physically do the experiments then it’s not very easy to get that sort of help. So we can look more at how we apply for funding and how we actually get things done. You can be at home and they can run the samples on the machines and you can see the data from anywhere. Before you get there and I think that’s useful for us.
Future plans with the instrument: How do you plan on using the instrument?
ELLEN: Get the instrument up and running by doing some validation on some assays that we have developed on the platform. We would like to be sure that they will work on another platform. Then I can publish the work and say that it’s been validated on another platform.
SANDRA: My intent is to start doing the Real–Time PCR assays within the next six months.
KEVIN: Same with me in terms of planning experiments from now whether I have to modify the way I take samples or take different samples so I can key it towards PCR and I can make measurements so they can help my research. A bit of a learning curve for me, which I’m looking forward to.
SANDRA: We can bring back to our students all this knowledge as well because we can now bring our students into the lab.
ELLEN: I’ve only been able to talk to my students about Real–Time PCR in pictures and slides. Now I can sit them on the machine and actually generate some graphs and show them other things. So it underpins our teaching as well as our research.
I have had a couple of students on quite a large quantity of projects but they’ve done them in the other organizations as that was where the equipment was. Now we have the opportunity to bring some of that back to our organization. And it’s very important for our students as well to see us doing research and know that they’re studying in a research active environment. And so instead of having us disappearing periodically to go off and do our research in other places, we’ll now be able to be working on site It is much better for them to be in the research culture.
The students can understand progression of an experiment and see what it really means and they can play with the data. You can move the Ct threshold depending on what was off to gain things and things like that. That is important when they go into the work place and they’ve actually worked on a machine and seen the proper software and instrument instead of pictures of it.
For Ellen, Kevin, and Sandra the QuantStudio grant will allow them to be able to teach students, more easily collaborate with other researchers and most importantly perform experiments that will help better understand their areas of research and help them find answers to their research questions faster.
For more information visit us at: www.thermofisher.com/qpcrconnect
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