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International Medical University Malaysia

Biomedical Science Internship (Cancer Biology and Oncolog)

Unpaid credit internship (2.5 months). Research in academia.


Aishah Amirah

Connect with Aishah on LinkedIn if you have any questions:

Would you recommend your internship to a friend?

Yes. I have gained invaluable experience from this research internship. It is truly a vast canyon of knowledge for those who are interested to venture into the world of scientific research.

What were you looking to gain from your experience?

The main objective that I aspire to achieve at the end of this internship is to develop knowledge, skills and attitude that are related to the professional responsibilities of a biomedical scientist. I also aim to reinforce an appreciation of interpersonal and collaborative skills that will promote my personal growth and development through carrying the role as a team player.

What attracted you to the company you interned with?

I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the prestigious UPM-MAKNA Cancer Research Laboratory for my internship attachment programme. The UPM-MAKNA Cancer Research Laboratory (CANRES) was established in 2005 as a joint collaboration between Universiti Putra Malaysia and Majlis Kanser Negara (MAKNA) in the never-ending attempt to enhance cancer therapy [1]. I was specifically interested in UPM-MAKNA CANRES because the researchers in this research institution originate from diverse scientific backgrounds including cell biology, genetics and pathology. A myriad of research findings from UPM-MAKNA CANRES researchers have won awards and some are successfully patented. Several of these contemporary research products are in pre-clinical testing and have been proven to be efficacious in cancer cells apoptotic reactions. The contribution towards the constant fight against cancer in terms of supplying information, prevention and current treatments have been thoroughly successful through the participation of UPM-MAKNA CANRES in cancer research.

1. Azah A. Laboratory of UPM - MAKNA Cancer Research (CANRES). research/laboratory_unit/laboratory_of_upm_makna_cancer_research_canres-32592 (accessed 28 June 2020).

What was a typical working day like?

It is an honour to have the opportunity to have a mini research project of my own to work on throughout my internship period at UPM-MAKNA CANRES. I was ecstatic to explore the properties of a protein named Tnf-Related Apoptosis Inducing Ligand, also known as TRAIL, and mesenchymal stem cells, as well as the promising therapeutic contributions of both in combatting cancer. Numerous research have been executed in order to comprehend TRAIL and its mechanism in inducing suicide signals specifically in cancer cells while not affecting normal cells [1]. Mesenchymal stem cells, on the other hand, owing to their innate affinity to home to tumor sites, have gained interest as selective vehicles for the delivery of anti-cancer agents such as TRAIL [1]. The aspect that I focused on was investigating the most effective source of mesenchymal stem cells that can act as a vector for delivery of TRAIL.

My research internship revolves around executing laboratory procedures in order to complete my project. I also did meticulous and extensive research on the standard protocols prior to executing the upcoming steps of my planned-out tentative methodology. Moreover, I learnt and practised the techniques to read past scientific articles on a daily basis in order to publish a review article in the future.

1. Guiho R, Biteau K, Grisendi G, Taurelle J, Chatelais M, Gantier M et al. TRAIL delivered by mesenchymal stromal/stem cells counteracts tumor development in orthotopic Ewing sarcoma models. International Journal of Cancer 2016; 139(12): .

What did you enjoy about your internship?

My ultimate bliss came from executing my own mini-project with the constant guidance from my supervisor, seniors and friends at UPM-MAKNA CANRES. I have also built professional relationships and meaningful friendships throughout my journey as an intern in this laboratory.

The first step in my methodology is to maintain mesenchymal stem cells until they become stable cell lines. I have limited hands-on experience in maintaining human-derived cell lines. Therefore, I took the initiative to learn from demos and execute hands-on procedure on how to maintain three different cell lines, which are BRIN-BD11, MCF-7 and 293FT. I have learnt the important components in maintenance of cell lines which include thawing, subculturing and cryopreservation of cell lines. After ensuring that I can successfully prevent contamination in the aforementioned cell lines, I proceeded to execute the maintenance of the cells for my research project, which are adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells as well as Wharton jelly-derived mesenchymal stem cells.

Besides being occupied with the process of generating stable mesenchymal stem cells, I also did meticulous and extensive research on the standard protocols for the upcoming steps of my tentative methodology. After comparing a few protocols, I finally decided upon the most suitable and comprehensible protocol for transduction, fluorescence microscopy, quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). On an interesting note, I also had the opportunity to attend a short course on PCR conducted by Qiagen, a well- known company providing sample and assay technologies for molecular diagnostics. Around the same week, I received an offer from my supervisor, Associate Professor Dr Syahrilnizam Abdullah, to pursue my Master’s degree in Cancer Biology and Oncology at Universiti Putra Malaysia in October 2020.

Subsequent to generation of stable mesenchymal stem cells, I began to execute the procedure for pre-transduction, which took about a fortnight. In my second last week as an intern, after successfully seeding the optimum number of cells, I executed transduction and managed to assess my transduction efficiency by using a fluorescent microscope.

To give a proper closure for my final week as an intern, my supervisor suggested to me to share my experience in the form of a presentation and invited fellow researchers from UPM-MAKNA CANRES to attend my internship presentation. From the feedback session after my presentation, I have gained invaluable insights from experienced researchers on ways to improve for my proposal presentation later in October 2020. I was also touched that the staff and researchers of the laboratory organised a farewell party for me, where it made me realise that I have built not only professional relationships, but also meaningful friendships throughout my journey as an intern in this laboratory.

What was the most challenging part?

Subsequent to generation of stable mesenchymal stem cells, I began to execute the procedure for pre-transduction. It is vital to note that I had my first prominent challenge in the research during this step of my methodology. I encountered some difficulties in seeding enough cells, a procedure that is compulsory prior to transduction. It took me some time in order to figure out the correct techniques and timing to seed the optimum number of cells for transduction.

In my second last week as an intern, after successfully seeding the optimum number of cells, I executed transduction and managed to assess my transduction efficiency by using a fluorescent microscope. According to the results, I observed that the transduction efficiency was high, but the viability of cells were low. After having a discussion on troubleshooting of the results with my supervisor and mentors, we came to the conclusion that I may have used an excessively high concentration of polybrene and a very high viral titre. Polybrene at optimum concentration is used to enhance transduction efficiency, but is toxic to the cells at high concentrations [1]. Extremely high viral titre is also a factor of low cell viability [2]. Due to time limitations, I have only managed to learn the theoretical part of the troubleshooting and I plan to carry out the laboratory work in my postgraduate studies.

1. Petrilli A.M., Fernández-Valle C.. Generation and Use of Merlin-Deficient Human Schwann Cells for a High-Throughput Chemical Genomics Screening Assay. Monje P, Kim H (eds). Methods in Molecular Biology, 1739 ed. New York: Humana Press; 2018. pp. .
2. Rozzi, S.J., Avdoshina, V., Fields, J.A. et al.. Human Immunodeficiency Virus Promotes Mitochondrial Toxicity. Neurotoxicity Research 2017; 32(1): .

How did the experience benefit your career?

I believe I have gained the objectives aforementioned regarding my expectations in this internship. Frederick Sanger, a British biochemist said, “Scientific research is one of the most exciting and rewarding of occupations.” I am proud to say that UPM-MAKNA CANRES has instilled in me a deep passion towards the research world, which was just as thrilling and gratifying as Frederick Sanger had claimed.

What is one advice that you would give to others who are planning to do an internship?

Always be focused, diligent and humble. Knowledge is always evolving, so always be flexible to changes and be ready to learn many new things.

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