Jasmine Nguyen

Supervisor: Meghan Riddell

Project: The role of atypical protein kinase C in regulating the internalization of proteins in the human placenta


Edmonton, AB

Degree program:

Bachelor of Science with Honors in Physiology

Why did you choose this program?

From as early as I can remember I've always had a strong passion for cellular biology and health sciences. In a lot of different ways, the study of physiology encompasses the intersection between these two incredibly interesting fields. Because of this, pursuing a degree in Honors Physiology was the natural next step in my educational journey. I was particularly intrigued by the large focus on hands-on research that the Honors program involves, and the opportunity to conduct a thesis project within my undergraduate degree was something that appealed to me greatly.

What did you get to work on throughout your studentship?

I've been fortunate enough to have been given the opportunity to work on every aspect of my project, from experimental design and protocol optimization to running full experiments and quantifying the data. I've been able to learn and apply several different research techniques on both BeWo cell lines and placental explants, such as cell passaging and fusion, uptake assays, inhibitor experiments, immunohistochemistry staining and confocal microscopy imaging. This studentship has provided me with invaluable firsthand experience in research, and I'm extremely grateful for the mentorship that my supervisor and peers have given me.

How did you stay connected with your supervisor and/or lab members?

Through the power of the internet! We're very fortunate to be living in a time where communication lines can be kept up quite easily through different channels like video conferences, email and group chats. Our lab made it a priority to keep in constant contact with each other throughout the initial COVID-19 shutdown with online coffee chats and journal clubs, and we continue to have virtual lab meetings twice a week to discuss our progress, new literature findings, interesting data we've collected, or even life in general to stay well-connected.

What's been the best part of your experience so far?

The best part of this experience has been the support and mentorship I've received while working in the Riddell Lab. Despite being an undergraduate summer student, I get unrestricted access to all the resources and training opportunities that I need to be successful. Dr. Riddell's patience and comprehensive instruction has allowed me to learn an incredible amount about conducting literary reviews, designing experiments, performing lab techniques and analyzing data. Her obvious passion for research and women's reproductive health has been infectious, and her high expectations have been extremely motivating for my personal growth in this field.

What interested you in the summer studentship program?

This program has acted as an incredible opportunity for an extensive period of learning inside the exciting field of women and children's health. As a young woman interested in research, I was heavily drawn to the strong community of women in science that WCHRI actively promotes. Being able to meet and connect with graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and other researchers in the lab space that are successful women in STEM has been inspiring, and their continuous mentorship throughout this studentship has been invaluable.

Lay abstract:

The placenta is an organ that is only present during pregnancy. It delivers nutrients and other essential factors from the mother to the developing baby. To do this, the placenta must take up, or internalize, things from the mother's blood. This is done by a special type of cell on the surface of the placenta. These cells internalize things from the mother's blood in multiple ways. One process of internalization is called endocytosis. It is known that in several common pregnancy complications that placental cells do not properly carry out endocytosis. This problem with placental endocytosis may contribute to the development of disease. These diseases during pregnancy can mean that babies are born very early and growth restricted, which means very small. Growth restriction leads to a lifelong increased risk of disease for the baby. There are currently no treatments for growth restriction. Importantly, though we know that there are changes in the endocytosis of specific proteins in growth restriction, we do not understand what exactly goes wrong to cause this. There is also very little information known about how placentas control endocytosis in a normal pregnancy.

In this project we aim to understand what controls endocytosis in the cells that form the surface of the placenta. We hypothesize that one group of proteins, the atypical protein kinase Cs (aPKC), may control placental endocytosis. Therefore, we will identify how proteins are endocytosed by the placenta, and if aPKC is involved in the process. We will use human placenta in cell culture with labelled proteins to monitor endocytosis. This will allow for future work examining what goes wrong with endocytosis in pregnancy complications. Ultimately, leading to the identification of potential treatments for pregnancy conditions and improved health for mothers and their babies.