Secondment at Cardiff University – A German goes from the Netherlands to Wales

One of the very positive things about being part of the PolarNet network is that it stimulates international exchange among the participating groups. For example, it gives us, the PhD students, the great opportunity to visit another research group for a couple of weeks and learn new techniques, make new acquaintances and help us to develop and expand our own network with other researches across Europe.

For me, this meant going to Cardiff to the lab of Professor Trevor Dale and my fellow PolarNet PhD student Eider Valle-Encinas. The goal was to gain insight into the work with organoids (for more information about organoids have a look at Nuria’s nice description in her blog from the 30th of August 2017).

To do this, I went in October for 4 weeks to Cardiff University. The first thing that struck me when I came to Cardiff was that all of a sudden it was again handy to have cash money with me – something to which I was absolutely not used to anymore – thanks to my almost two years in the Netherlands, where cash money is almost obsolete.

After this “culture shock”, I started my secondment at Trevor’s lab the next day.  I was warmly welcomed by Eider, who was my “supervisor” during my 4-week stay. Eider gave me a first tour over the whole campus and then introduced me to the rest of the group, who gave me just as well a nice welcome.

Eider and me together in the lab.

The next day, we started culturing frozen organoids from Eider to give me a first impression and a first hand-on experience in working with organoids. One day later, after giving a “short” one-hour presentation to Trevor’s group about my project in Utrecht and after getting lots of helpful feedback back from them, the real challenge came – isolating cells from freshly isolated organs (liver and pancreas, fortunately, the organ isolation part was done by Eider) and growing organoids from those isolated cells. Thanks to Eider’s good protocol and supervision, this first trial was quite successful and after a couple of days we saw some organoids growing in our matrigels.

(Left) A cluster of pancreas cells from a freshly isolated and trypsinized mouse pancreas just before the cells are embedded in matrigel and grown in a special “expansion” medium. (Right) After 4 days embedded in matrigel and grown in special expansion medium the isolated cells start forming organoids.

Every week we isolated cells from mice and grew new organoids while we were expanding the previously harvested organoids. From time to time we isolated mRNA from my pancreas organoids to analyze what kind of pancreatic cells I was exactly culturing (the endocrine lineage with alpha, beta and delta cells or the duct cells), since this was a test to see if it is possible to grow pancreatic islets from isolating pancreatic cells. The results are still pending.

By doing this, my time in Cardiff passed by quickly. Another reason why my stay in Cardiff was so nice and why time just flew by was because of the great hospitality from everyone in Trevor’s group. One occasion where I could especially experience this was during their lab outing. That day we went out for a challenging and team forming escape room in the morning, scientific pep talks in the afternoon and drinks in the evening. Even though we did not manage to steal the diamond during our “Heist” – we had a lot of fun together and I am glad that I could join them.

The whole Dale lab plus me after our adventures at Escape Rooms Cardiff.

Thanks a lot to Trevor Dale, his entire group and especially to Eider, for all your help and the unique experience I had during my time in Cardiff.