Beimnet Ayalew

Supervisor: Qiumin Tan

Project: Whole-brain immunolabeling and 3D imaging of transient neurons in the developing mouse brain


Edmonton, AB

Degree program:

Bachelor of Science

How would you describe your research project to someone without a scientific background in one or two sentences?

My research project aims to find and determine the role of specific cells in the brain that we know play a role in early brain development, but may also play a role in the pathogenesis of epilepsy.

What did you get to work on throughout your studentship?

Throughout my studentship, I was able to carry out the CUBIC protocol, a method that allows tissues to be transparent—called “tissue clearing”—that makes investigating biological samples with microscopy easier and faster. I was able to independently carry out many of the steps which is a skill I am happy to have gained. I was also introduced to immunostaining, a way to stain tissue, which was combined with microscopy training to visualize our samples. Being able to see the samples progress through each of these stages is something I'm very proud of and I'm grateful for Dr. Tan who helped me with every single step of the process.

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

There have been many, but I would have to say getting trained on how to use the Leica Falcon SP8 STED System at the Cross Cancer Institute. I'm very grateful to Drs. Tan and Xuejun Sun for allowing me to use such an advanced microscope for my project. Since I was researching modern microscopy techniques at the beginning of my project, I feel as if using this microscope put my studies to practice and I was able to learn much through the hands-on training they provided. This experience also demonstrated to me the collaborative nature of science and how fortunate I am to be on a campus that can facilitate these interactions with researchers from various different departments.

What's one piece of advice you received from your supervisor/mentor that resonated with you?

One thing I've learned from my supervisor is that things will not always go according to plan. I've learned that being adaptive is key in research and problem solving is part of the scientific process. I would be lying if I said I didn't get frustrated sometimes because I didn't know why something wasn't working, but through asking Dr. Tan questions and her patience when responding, I think I'm beginning to get better at expecting the unexpected.

What has the support from WCHRI and the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation meant to you?

The support from the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation through WCHRI is something I'm extremely grateful for. The experience I've gained throughout this summer has been phenomenal and has led me to continue with my research through the academic school year. This opportunity would not be possible if it weren't for the generosity of these funders so thank you, it truly means more than you can imagine.

Lay abstract:

The role of my project is to understand where and when Cajal-Retzius cells (CRs)—neurons that are involved in the correct organization of the developing brain—begin dying off in the developing brains of control and capicua (CIC) knockout models. Capicua is a gene that is broadly expressed in the brain and has been associated with the manifestation of epilepsy. 

Fifty per cent of individuals with a loss of function mutation in this gene have epilepsy, making it a suitable model for the project. To visualize CRs, a technique known as CUBIC—a method that visualizes whole tissues by making the tissue optically transparent while labelling the cells of interest with fluorescence—will be used. Using this technique, it will be possible to see where the CRs are located throughout the brains of the control and CIC knockout model. Samples will be collected at various developing stages thus creating a map and timeline of CRs in the developing brain. This project thus serves two main purposes: it will strengthen our understanding of CRs and the processes regulating their death, it will also provide insight into the mechanisms of epileptic disorders.