Published by: michadmin on June 13th, 2012
By: Nora Nolette
Working as a research technician can be very rewarding and challenging at the same time. All research technicians at the University of Manitoba are supported by research grants, or ‘soft’ money. Funding can range from six months to five years, so it is not unusual to change research paths. As a research technician you must be flexible, able to learn and implement new research methods and enjoy working with and teaching techniques to students. Being comfortable using new equipment and having the ability to keep the old equipment in good working order is also important.
My career at the University of Manitoba began in 1976 in the Department of Oral Biology as an animal research technician. We cared for Sprague-Dawley and Norwegian Hooded rats, C57Bl6 and Balb/c mice, golden hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits to support departmental research. After four years, I was hired as a research technician in bacteriology/microbiology within the same department. We worked extensively with mice, rats, rabbits and dogs to classify oral microflora in the mouth. This area of research is known as Taxonomy. A highlight in our research occurred when the collaboration with a Norwegian research group led to the naming of a new microorganism after my supervisor, Dr. George Bowden. It was named Actinomyces bowdenii.
After many enjoyable years working in Oral Biology and Medical Microbiology, I accepted a position at St. Boniface Research Centre. Here I worked for the Division of Neurodegenerative and Neurological Disorders in the Department of Pharmacology where we investigated the cellular pathways involved in dementia, Alzeihmer’s, MS and diabetes. My career path changed after a few years and I returned to the Bannatyne campus to work with the brain disorders group in the Department of Physiology. Our area of interest was gap junctions, which are intercellular protein channels responsible for the cell to cell passage of ions, hormones and neurotransmitters.
When funding came to an end after 6 years in physiology, I was hired by Dr. Shyamala Dakshinamurti for a position at the Manitoba Institute for Child Health (MICH) under the Biology of Breathing Theme. Dr. Dakshinamurti’s area of interest is persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN) of the newborn. Most people take for granted that babies are born breathing, but underlying a newborn’s ability to breath is a complicated cellular change. The cells in the lungs must adapt so breathing can occur. We are investigating these pathways.
The animal model most closely resembling a newborn is the piglet. For this reason, we use piglet lungs to acquire pulmonary aortic smooth muscle cells (PASMC) and grow them in culture. We then test and experiment with various inhibitors and activators to look at how these cells react during hypoxia (reduction of oxygen to the tissue). Our research group consists of two doctoral students, a research associate and two research technicians. A co-investigator, Dr. Man (Ann) Yi, will also join our research group this summer.
Working with clinical investigators is exciting because it is possible to see your research go from “bench to bedside”. For example, we recently acquired an Echo-Ultrasound machine to begin collecting ultrasound data on piglet hearts. This equipment will allow us to see and evaluate the effects of drugs on the pulmonary and heart system. As one of the few research groups in the world using this technique, we hope to discover why some drugs help newborns breathe.
As a research technician, the learning curve is steep and it never stops, but the rewards can be great. It is also gratifying to play a small role in the education and mentorship of high school students, undergraduates, graduates and clinical fellows and to see many of them go on to establish research laboratories of their own.