My Dissertation Experience – Maya Bennison

My Dissertation Experience

Supervisor and project title:

  • Dr Clive Price / Professor Paul Bates: An investigation in to the roles of Transcription Factor 7 like 2 and Phospholipase C Delta 1 in colorectal cancer

Why I chose this topic

I have been interested in cancer and genetics since before I even started university, so I knew I was going to put those two as my top choices for my project. Luckily I got what I wanted, and although this was more genetics based in regards to the practical work, in my literature review I investigated more in to cancer, which I found really interesting.

How much time was spent in the lab…

I spent around 5 weeks doing lab work almost every week day, a lot of the time it was 9am starts and around 4pm finishes. We got around a week off labs when our samples were sent off for sequencing, however we had to plan other experiments in our own time.

What I investigated…

My project was about sequencing colorectal cancer cDNA from both a cell line and a patient biopsy sample and looking for mutations in my target gene, and then checking expression levels of another gene using qPCR, to see if these were implicit in the formation of of the tumour. I had to prepare my TCF7L2 samples for sequencing by doing PCR to amplify them, clone and transform them into vectors and then send them off to be sequenced. I then had to analyse the sequencing data (a loooooong list of ATCG’s) and look for mutations in comparison to my control. The qPCR was a lot more simple as we just set up the reactions with our gene, then used an equation to analyse the results. In my write up I then had to talk about the consequences of these potential mutations, and how Next Generation Sequencing of DNA may be used in personalised cancer medicine.

A typical day involved…

Agarose gel electrophoresis and PCR were two of the techniques I did a lot (a lot…) as I had to amplify cDNA and clone it into vectors for a control sample, as well as the two different tumour samples. This involved a lot of waiting around (gels take about an hour to run, and PCR takes 3 hours) so the days dragged a bit. But, it was enjoyable at the same time as I feel like I mastered these techniques and became a lot more confident in the lab.

What I discovered…

My results showed a 12bp insertion mutation in my target gene TCF7L2, and there was a 5-fold decrease in expression of the gene PLCD1. These results suggested that these could have contributed towards the formation of the tumour, so in my discussion I analysed ways that these could be used in the diagnosis and treatment of colorectal cancer.

Feedback from supervisor…

Clive unfortunately retired over summer, so I didn’t get a lot of feedback as I hadn’t written up my project at that point, however he was helpful in labs and encouraged my group to have faith in their own answers rather than asking about everything! Paul has been very helpful in my write-up and has given a lot of constructive feedback to help me write my report (deadline next Monday!)

If I could do it again I would change…

I would probably make the most of the summer holidays to write-up my project, as I still had about half of it to do when I came back for third year and it has been difficult to balance this with my third year modules.

Any hints or advice?

Write up methods straight away as soon as your lab work is finished and write detailed notes in your lab book. It’s crazy how much you forget over the summer, so write it up whilst it’s fresh in your mind. Also, if you’re even considering doing a Masters or going in to a specific field of research after uni, then pick your dissertation topics based on this, as it gives you a lot to talk about in applications, and can count as “experience.”