All I Want for Christmas is… a Published Article

Me at my MSc Graduation ‘Forensic Toxicology by Research’

Hello everyone, let me be the first to wish you the happiest of holidays!

I am in disbelief that I have already been working in Wageningen for 7 months, but as the saying goes ‘time flies when you’re having fun’.

Since my last blog I have been able to complete my review paper, and submit it to the FoodSmartphone supervisory board. I am now awaiting the end of the waiting period which occurs when an ESR wants to publish a paper, poster etc, the waiting period is so that the rest of the FoodSmartphone board has an opportunity to see work before it is submitted to a journal. I will be eagerly anticipating the 29th of December on which date I can finally submit my article!

As I have mentioned before my project is called ‘Developing an affordable multiplex smartphone based immunoassay for the detection of food allergens. As my project is developing an immunoassay (opposed to Safiye’s aptamer based assay), I will be using allergen specific antibodies to detect allergens within foods. But the question is: how do I select these antibodies? The short answer is that there are a range of techniques that I could apply. One of these is surface plasmon resonance (SPR). SPR is a label free biosensor which is able to measure bimolecular interactions (e.g. the interaction of an antibody binding with its antigen (allergen), in real time. It’s a great tool for characterising antibodies as it does not only provide us with important information such as ‘does this antibody bind with this antigen’ but can also give more detailed information such as how strongly the antibody binds with its antigen (its affinity); how quickly the binding occurs (its association rate: Ka) and how quickly the binding breaks down (its dissociation rate: Kd). For my project, I am most concerned with selecting antibodies with fast association rates as I will be developing a rapid assay. So this means I should compare all of my antibodies with each other to see which ones have the quickest Ka’s. ‘How?’ you might ask, so I will try to give a basic description:

I will do this by immobilising an FC-specific antibody to my SPR sensor chip. Using an FC-specific antibody allows a uniform surface to be created on my sensor chip. As this antibody binds to the FC region of other antibodies, it means that it will capture my allergen-specific antibodies in the same orientation. I then will inject my allergen specific antibody (allowing it to be captured by the FC-specific antibody immobilised on the chip surface) to my chip. Following this, I will inject my allergen antigen (an extract from a whole food e.g. protein extract from a whole Hazelnut) and observe the binding between my allergen specific antibody and my allergen. Each cycle will allow me to test 3 different allergen specific antibodies for their Ka toward the target allergen. I will then be able to regenerate my sensor chip, leaving behind only the FC-specific antibody on the surface and presenting a ‘fresh’ chip to test my next 3 antibodies! Very cool and it will help me focus my search through the large amount of antibodies we have at RIKILT to select only the very fastest for my FoodSmartphone assay. I am really enjoying getting to know how to use a new instrument (Biacore) and methods I have never used before. I should mention here, that in research you really do learn from your mistakes, I discovered this when accidentally selecting WAAAAY too low a flow rate during my antibody immobilisation turning a half hour experiment into a half a day experiment !

(I do not think I will ever tire of the beauty of The Netherlands)

Life outside of work has been equally exciting these past months. I graduated from my masters  with a Distinction in Forensic Toxicology by Research. It was lovely to be able to celebrate with all of my old course-mates and impress my professors/lecturers with my new role in FoodSmartphone and of course wear the class mortarboard and gown (for my last time, as in Wageningen you do not wear gown/hat for graduation). Following the theme of discussing cool areas us ESR’s have been lucky enough to explore, two cities in The Netherlands that have imprinted on my heart since my last blog are Haarlem and Den Haag. Maybe it would be nice for us ESR’s to produce a Lonely Planet style guide for our respective countries in Europe as every place I hear about my colleagues travelling to sounds amazing and it would be nice to collect it in one place!

(Great Venom Exhibition at London’s Natural History Museum)

For now I am home in London for Christmas holidays and enjoying spending time with friends, family and most importantly my pet snake Dexter who seems to have grown from a noodle to a rope since I last saw him (although that was only a few months ago!). I am appreciating how blessed I am to come from such a vibrant, multicultural, innovative city. People say: ’New York’ at Christmas, but I am willing to wager that London at Christmas can give New York a run for its money! I have been lucky enough to visit a festival of lights show at world famous botanical gardens; Kew Gardens. This included hundreds of trees being illuminated by festive lights and music, I have included some photos below but they in no way give justice to what my eyes were seeing! A quintessential part of London is the West End, aka the theatre district. I have been fortunate enough to see many west end shows over the years, and was able to take my Mum to see ‘The School of Rock’ (one of my favourite childhood movies) last week at New London Theatre. It was a great night filled with music, dancing, acting and hysterical laughter. I have also tried to get more in a festive mood with an outdoor ice rink at London’s Natural History Museum (and this time I didn’t fall on the ice!) and a London Dungeon Christmas Late’s where you get to have an after hours tour of London’s scariest horror attraction.

(Christmas at Kew Gardens)

For now I will look forward to spending Christmas with my family and rejuvenating, preparing myself for prosperous new year in FoodSmartphone. So I hope everyone has a happy holiday period and a great new year, and I look forward to updating you guys on my next blog post in 2018!


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