My Tours diary – Isabella Montagna, Biomedical Science

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Sat 22nd

It’s the day before I set off for Tours and while packing enough clothes, toiletries and travel adapters for 4 weeks, I’ve been thinking back to when I applied for a summer placement in Tours. I completed the application form without thinking I would ever end up here, but I got through to the interview stage and then received an email confirming I had been successful. While in Tours, I’m going to be working on the interaction between leukaemia cells and the bone marrow microenvironment. To prepare for this trip I’ve been doing some background research into this area and have read recent articles written by the group I will be working with. However, I’ve also been researching the sights to see in Tours, as well as getting to know the other 7 girls from the biomedical science programme who will all be joining different research groups in Tours. I haven’t been particularly nervous for this trip as it’s going to be such an incredible experience but I’m sure I’ll be feeling the nerves as I begin my adventure down to Tours.

Sun 23rd

It feels like I’ve been waiting a long time for this day to arrive to finally get to Tours. I decided to take the Eurostar to Paris Gare du Nord where I had a quick transfer to Paris Montparnasse to then get a TGV to Tours. Although most of us decided to take different journeys due to where we live in the country, I was fortunate to travel with Lucy who kept me company throughout the day and it definitely helped to have the two of us to navigate the Parisian underground. As soon as we stepped off the train in Tours, 27 degree heat and sunshine hit us and I knew I was going to have an amazing time in tours. Once all 8 of us had arrived, we wandered down into the centre of tours and had a lovely first meal altogether before getting an early night ready for our first day in the labs.

Mon 24th

We had to be up early this morning to be taken to our accommodation and to have a welcome talk at the medical faculty, but everyone made sure to make time for a fresh pain au chocolat from a local boulangerie before we had to head off. The accommodation is very basic and a bus ride into town, however, it is in a lovely area and we’re unlikely to be spending much time there due to our long lab schedules and sightseeing. This was also my first day in the lab which was both exciting and daunting. I was able to meet all the staff, look around the lab and begin to learn key experimental skills for my project. I also had a meeting with Professor Olivier Hérault who explained the details of my project which is going to be researching the effects of d-limonene on leukaemic cells in terms of apoptosis, cell cycle, growth, viability, chemoresistance, etc. This is the first stage of a new project for the team so I’m taking on a large responsibility but I’m looking forward to this challenge and to help them begin this new topic of research.

Fri 25th

It’s been a long hot week with temperatures reaching 40 degrees. We’ve heard the word ‘canicule’ a lot which means heatwave as even the locals are shocked with these temperatures. However, the French are very laid back and we’ve had generous lunch breaks where we are able to go to the local botanical gardens to eat our lunch altogether. In terms of work, I’ve settled into the routine of working in a lab. My day is usually from 9-4 and mostly involves planning protocols and calculating concentrations and solutions before we begin our experiments. I have learnt to seed and to culture cells as well as refining skills I have learnt before. I was also lucky enough to be able to watch a bone marrow sample be taken and then look at it under a microscope to understand the patient’s diagnosis. We’ve also explored the town of Tours more and have found the best places to eat, drink and shop ready for the weekends where we have more free time.

Sun 27th

We really made the most of this weekend. On Saturday we went to the market and bought handmade quiche and fresh cherries for lunch which we took down to eat by the river. We found somewhere to paddle and managed to stay cool all day despite the hot temperatures. On Sunday we visited Chateau Chenonceaux which is a famous chateau spanning the Cher river. It was so beautiful, and we were able to have a really enjoyable day looking around the chateau and gardens and learning more about its history.

Friday 5th July

It’s been another long week in the labs, but temperatures have been much cooler. This week I properly started my project by adding varying concentrations of my drug d-limonene to one of my cell lines. After 72hrs incubation I ended the experiment and measured cell viability using both trypan blue staining and flow cytometry. Today, we started a similar experiment but for our other cell line which is known to be more chemo resistant. We also had a welcome talk from the dean of the faculty at the start of the week who made sure that we’ve settled in well and that we’re all happy with our projects. We’re all looking forward to another exciting weekend and are celebrating the start of the weekend by going out for a meal in town followed by drinks at the guinguette which is an open bar next to the river.

Sunday 7th July

We’ve had such an amazing weekend. On Friday night we went to the guinguette as planned and watched the sun set over the river. We also made some friends with other students both French and international. On Saturday we took a picnic down to the river and spent the day reading, sunbathing and paddling in the water. We also went to the guinguette again in the evening and met up with some of our friends that we made the night before. On Sunday we visited the town of Amboise where Leonardo de Vinci spent the last years of his life. We were able to walk around his house and gardens and learn more about all his inventions. We ended the day by crossing back over the river to get a beautiful view of the chateau of Amboise which is a very impressive castle.

Friday 12th July

This has been the third week of working in the lab and we’re all getting into a daily routine. This week I set off more experiments with 2 different cell lines: HL60 and THP1. After 72 hours incubation, I studied cell viability and apoptosis with flow cytometry. Although we’ve all been busy at work we’ve still managed to fit in other activities in the evenings. We found a Guatemalan coffee shop where we had delicious and much needed iced coffees and on Wednesday, we did a wine and cheese night which was definitely a highlight of the week. Then on Friday we had a traditional French meal on one of the main streets in Tours centre followed by an evening at the guinguette.

Sun 14th July

Yesterday (Saturday) we decided to go kayaking down the Loire river. We started in Amboise and kayaked through beautiful scenery to Vouvry. It was so peaceful and although our arms were sore afterwards it was well worth it. Today we decided to have a more chill day and went to town for a crêpe for lunch. It was also bastille day (the national day of France) so in the afternoon we went to watch a military parade in the centre of tours before heading to the guinguette for fireworks over the river. They were probably the best fireworks we’ve ever seen and were very lucky to experience this national holiday.

Sat 20th July

The last week of labs was very much the same as previous weeks. I completed one more experiment with my cell lines to test the effect of d-limonene on the cell cycle and completed a report for my lab. They are going to continue the research I started by testing the effect of d-limonene in conjunction with cytarabine (chemotherapy) in a co-culture of leukaemic cell lines and stromal cells. I feel very privileged that I was able to undertake such an important role in this important line of research. This week we also did all the things we loved one more time such as one last ice cream, a wine and cheese night and on our last evening altogether we went for cocktails followed by an amazing traditional French meal. We also went to the guinguette one last time to watch the sun set and then sadly said our goodbyes. Everyone left at various times, taking various modes of transport. I took the Eurostar back which was very quick and easy. I’m going to miss life in Tours, and it was the most incredible experience offered by the university. I have learnt so many skills both in the lab and outside such as improving my French and experiencing working abroad. I will never forget this experience but I’m glad to now be home.

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