When I was little, I liked to imagine things. I was never a big fan of dolls, rather I liked to imagine myself in a different world and react to imaginary things that happened to me in that world with imaginary friends. Yes, I was that kid who not only had imaginary friends but also brought real friends into their imaginary world. During my pre-teen years, B and I would play “Plan”, where we would literally plan a situation and think of how we would tackle that. As years went by, I grew out of that imaginary space.
In the lab, I once again find myself in a world that is half-real, half-imaginary.
In my PhD project I look at how inflammation in arthritis is translated as pain in the body. In order to do that, I take knee cells from mouse and put them together with the neurons from spinal cord. It is known that knee cells somehow tell the neurons in the spinal cord to start firing vigorously to make us feel “pain”. Spinal cord is the hub of all activity and these neurons that I work with talk to many different parts of the body, so one important step is to identify which neurons in the spinal cord are actually talking to the knee. The technique I use to do that is called “retrograde labelling”.
In this technique, I inject the mice right below their knee cap with a blue dye. The nerves near the knee then try to dodge the paint ball that come towards them at a ferocious speed. But they fail. They get soaked in this blue dye and wherever they go they leave blue stains at their wake. Then they decide to rest a while near the spinal cord, take a quick shower to shake off all the blueness and continue on to the brain. I can then take out these spinal cord neurons, look at them under a special microscope to see which were labelled with this blue dye and study them.
Injecting blue dye–> Blue dye injected into the knee–> Neurons in dish labelled with blue dye
Later this week, I will be injecting arthritis causing chemicals to a mouse knee. But first, we have to make sure that the arthritic mice can walk on all of their four paws. A very simple way of doing that is comparing footprints of a healthy mouse with an arthritic one. As I paint little paws with red and blue and let them run through a tunnel, there emerges an “Alpona”. Alpona is an art form practiced especially in West Bengal, India for various celebrations. During the worship of Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of prosperity), devotees in Bengal and other parts of India draw little artistic footprints of the Goddess to lead her into the house.
Footprints of Goddess lakshmi – artistic representation
Then the mouse emerges from the tunnel to face the real world.