Skip to main content

BSI summer placement: building research experience and skills

Medical student Laetitia Jervis received a British Society for Immunology Summer Placement Award to fund her placement at the Institute of Child Health in the rheumatology department.  Here, she discusses her placement and tells us what she gained from the experience.

I am a first year medical student at the University of East Anglia and I recently completed a 3-week research studentship at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health. I spent my time in the rheumatology department working on a project that aimed to phenotype the cell populations found in the synovial fluid and blood of children with camptodactyly-arthropathy-coxa vara-pericarditis syndrome (CACP).  This syndrome most commonly presents with a non-inflammatory arthropathy that has, in the past, been misdiagnosed as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Such misdiagnoses can result in years of treatment that proves to be ineffective for these children, prolonging symptoms and increasing overall joint damage through poor disease control.

During my project, I worked closely with a consultant rheumatologist and research assistant within the clinical specialist group. Using flow cytometry to analyse age and sex matched synovial fluid and blood samples from CACP patients, JIA patients and healthy controls, we defined and compared the cell populations found. Prior to this project there was no existing data defining the cell populations found in CACP patients and how such populations compare to those found in patients with JIA. The data from this project defines the cell profile of CACP patients and identifies some trends and differences between the cell profiles found in CACP patients, JIA patients and healthy controls. Although a larger sample size is required to prove such trends as statistically significant differences, the phenotype data collated from this project may help provide earlier prompts to clinicians regarding diagnosis, helping to prevent future misdiagnoses.

The laboratory techniques I used included blood and synovial fluid processing to isolate peripheral blood mononuclear cells and synovial fluid mononuclear cells, and flow cytometry to define cell phenotypes using a selected lineage panel. The lineage panel included markers for T cells, monocytes, B cells, natural killer cells and dendritic cells. Flow cytometry was a completely new scientific technique to me and I really enjoyed learning the technique, methods of optimisation and data compensation whilst developing my confidence in the technique throughout the project. Planning my own experiments with precision and taking complete responsibility for precious patient samples was a very steep, but important, learning curve for me.

Being awarded the summer studentship by the British Society for Immunology gave me the opportunity to carry out some very important clinical research and further develop my laboratory skills, which will contribute hugely to my future career in medicine. I am very grateful to the British Society for Immunology for my studentship award and to the research group at the Institute of Child Health for their endless support and enthusiasm. Working in a children’s hospital and research department was particularly exciting for me as my current future specialty interests lie in paediatrics. Having previously worked for the same research group as an honorary research fellow on a study looking at children with JIA, I was able to see how arthritis affects children directly in clinics, putting my time spent on both studies into context. I am really looking forward to being a part of the future of this project as we expand the aims to look at the lack of a functional protein (lubricin) in the joints of children with CACP and try to establish its functional role in joint inflammation. Being supported to carry out projects of this kind is a very important step in building my clinical research portfolio to help me strengthen my research experience and skills for the future.

Laetitia Jervis

First year medical student, University of East Anglia

Our Summer Placement Award Scheme provides financial support to medical and postgraduate students who are planning to undertake a formal placement in a selected laboratory for their medical elective or for a summer placement. You can find out more information on our grants webpage