My Experience in New York by Joan Bestard Escalas

The Science 

My stay in NY was due to the necessity of our laboratory to learn about one specific technique. Since the start, our research group had been focused on learning about lipid metabolism in colorectal cancer disease. Our human samples analysis found that lipid metabolism is different at the base of the colon crypts than at the luminal site of the crypts. It is well established that colon stem cells reside at the base of the colonic crypts, and that if these cells lose control over the life cycle then the colon can eventually develop cancer.

The next step once your model has been characterized is to mess up the known factors in a controlled environment in order to check the importance of the new and fancy discovered factors in the model. In our case, the most reliable model is the use of colon crypts organoids, which are a small amount of cells with an equivalent behaviour of the tissue to model.

These two pictures were taken from two different colon organoids. The one on the left is a colon organoid only formed by stem cells (with no differentiation) as a tumor. The one of the right site is an organoid able to differentiate its cells, as a healthy colon should do.

By playing with the enzymes that we have discovered to be important for cell proliferation we should be able to discover the appropriate targets so as to transform the proliferative organoids into “healthy” ones.

This technique is a very expensive one, not only because of the reagents and devices required for the technique itself, but most importantly due to the time required to set up the setting to achieve this. In science, the usual “protocol” followed by the laboratories is to find another one instead of losing time in setting up the technique and learning what to do (or more important what NOT TO DO) to successfully obtain results.

Luckily we knew Dr. Richard Kolesnik of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Research Center in New York. The Sloan Kettering center is one of the biggest cancer research institutions in the United States, and Dr. Kolesnik allowed me to stay for one month to learn about their organoid culture technique and evaluation. During that month I needed to learn what their laboratory has been developing during the four whole years of trial and error.

But the first scary requirement was to enter the USA.

On arrival at JFK Airport my prejudices about the USA Immigration Policies made me very anxious. But, all those fears came to nothing, and 30 minutes after I had landed I was officially entering the USA; with almost a pitying look from the immigration workers, who implied that it was by their great benevolence that I had the honour to visit their country (maybe the same look from other immigration workers around the world, but in this case with more guns and flags).

During the first week I had time to meet some people; maybe it was a little bit sad that most of them spoke Spanish (and also one of them speak Catalan, and live in Mallorca) as they stayed in the same halls of residence as me. In the laboratory there is a greater variety of nationalities. In fact, there are only two members from the USA (the PI of the group and the technician). My mentor is Laura, an Argentinian Phd student, and there are doctors and Phd students from all around the world, from German students to a Muslim Israelis.

The self-proclaimed “poop crew”, from left to right me, Laura, Cristie, Stefan and Mohamed. They are the ones who have developed the organoid culture in the Dr. Kolesnick laboratory and after 4 years they now have it all “setup”, and ready to make really interesting experiments.

The City

Manhattan island is pretty nice. It’s like Mallorca if you walk straight enough because in the end you will find water. So, it’s impossible to get lost.

I was in the Macy’s thanksgiving parade. It was nice to be there in such a typical US tradition. In these kinds of events, it’s easy to see the best of people, as everyone is happy to be there, the parents with their smiling children, amazed by the big balloons and the TV characters only few meters away, the teenagers who embrace the tradition every year. Despite all this, I don’t like big crowds too much but still it made me smile to see all the happy faces.

The TV shows of the nineties don’t lie. During the USA parades they have those ridiculously big balloon models from TV shows.

Of all the neighbourhoods I visited in Manhattan the one that impressed me the most was Chinatown. You know that a specific community makes a neighbour themselves when the city hall needs to put the signs in the zone in another language. Welcome to Chinatown, where the streets are named in English and Mandarin Chinese. I almost laugh at laud seeing how in a same park, a group of teenagers were playing soccer, a women were practicing Thai chi by herself, another one where practicing Kung Fu with a Chinese sword and an old man was teaching Thai chi to a mid-aged non Asiatic group. It’s another city inside NY, where you can see a lot of fresh fish products, ducks and strange fruits sold at the streets as nowhere in the rest of the city.

I still don’t know what those fruits are, but they are sold all around Chinatown. And yes, the spiky things of the picture are also some kind of fruit.

 

Here are my thoughts on my last day in NY (or at least Manhattan as I didn’t have the opportunity to leave the island). I really enjoyed this city. For sure, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world (at least compared to the cities that I have visited before). And, as nobody is from here, It’s impossible to feel like a foreigner.   It’s true that no one will look at you at the streets, everyone seems to be minding their own business, and nobody seems to care about anybody. But, in fact it’s really nice to see that somebody is always on hand to help the blind, old or injured person to cross the street. Or that the New Yorkers assist instantly when somebody asks them for help or to come and meet a friend or a relative.

Maybe this is because there are a lot of people here, who all live in a very small space (1000€/month for a 1 room rental is the proof of that !!) that make that everyone so close to their neighbours ( both emotionally and physically) and makes the New Yorkers (North Americans or from all the countries of the world) one of the nicest persons that I have ever met.

I must say that I was completely wrong. New York is an amazing place. It’s easy to move around, it’s incredibly rewarding to explore and try out the restaurants that on first sight seems to be overrun by roaches but in the end the food is really delicious (maybe it’s the extra-roach flavour which enhances the NY meals). And of course, I left this city in love with their competitive, but at the same time warm and happy people.

 

 

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