Starting a New Job During COVID-19

By Amelia

I can now say that I’ve finished my first week of work as a research assistant in the Gibbs Lab at Oregon Health & Science University! The lab is focused on the study and synthesis of fluorescent dyes (known as fluorophores) for a variety of uses, ranging from nerve-sparing surgery to visualization of tumors. So my research is very interdisciplinary – I’d describe it as a mix between biomedical engineering and neuroscience and chemistry.

Although this is my first real job—not a neighborhood tutoring gig, not a weekend cat-sitting post, not a summer internship or a part-time lacrosse coach position—it’s far from my first time in this lab. Last summer (or “the summer before COVID,” as I like to think of it), I spent my eight-week internship trying to answer the same scientific question I’m now working to solve as an official employee: what is the protein target of nerve-specific fluorophore Oxazine 4?

Aside from the masks and the fact that our weekly lab meetings are now held virtually, not much has changed in the year or so that I’ve been away. The end goal is still the same: that my findings will pave the way toward gaining FDA approval and making Oxazine 4 available for use in image-guided nerve-sparing surgery—a procedure that would help surgeons avoid severing or otherwise damaging their patients’ nerves in the operating room. Before my internship last summer, I had never heard of, or even thought about, the possibility of intraoperative nerve damage. So I was shocked to learn that it’s a problem that causes pain and/or loss of function for roughly 600,000 patients every year. That simple statistic is what motivated me throughout all of last summer and continues to get me through long days in the lab!

It’s exciting to be back in the Gibbs Lab, to reunite with my former mentors and return to this familiar project! More updates to come, so stay tuned!