Engaging Others in Research

Spring 2016

Sarah Khan

Schulich Leader at University of Victoria

I recently completed an eight-month “Directed Studies” course on Molecular Biology and Genetics. “Directed Studies” is a course offered by various departments allowing students to work on a cross-discipline guided research project involving hands-on laboratory work. My project involved developing an enzyme replacement therapy for those suffering from a genetic disorder called San Filippo syndrome. I worked with a lab team that included two other undergraduate students, a Masters student and a professor. 
My lab team and I were later invited to present some of our research findings at a public social held by the Centre for Biomedical Research. We explained how we transfected an insect cell line with a gene encoding our enzyme of interest so that these insect cells could produce our enzyme for us. Part of the challenge was finding ways to make our research findings accessible and understandable to an audience not necessarily familiar with Molecular Biology and Genetics. For example, as a team, we decided to say “using moth cells to make medicine for genetic disease” instead of “optimizing the production of N-acetylglucosaminidase by Sf9 cells.” 
However, I was personally amazed at the level of engagement and enthusiasm of the participants! One is never quite sure if one’s very specialized and focussed research is very interesting to those working in other fields, even scientific ones. Nonetheless, we received an assortment of interesting and well thought out responses and questions to our work. Next time, I think, I will be better prepared to go into more depth about some of the implications of our work. While keeping things simple is generally a good idea, one mustn’t fear complexity either.