As you may recall, I changed my work about six weeks ago. Instead of doing research with mice testing types of drug treatment for muscular dystrophic disease, I have moved directly into diagnostics. Specifically, I now analyze muscle biopsies from patients to assay the activity of vital enzymes responsible for healthy muscle metabolism.
This is not a trivial task. Each assay involves creating the conditions for a particular biochemical reaction, adding extract from the muscle, and measuring the activity of that muscle extract. Should the activity fall below a certain level, we can deduce that the patient is suffering from a serious metabolic disease.
However, there are many variables involved, starting with the condition of the biopsied muscle and how well it can treated to ensure that a truly representative measure of enzyme activity can be measured. Many of the enzymes I look at – all of which play a part in the Citric acid cycle that you may remember from biology class – are not very stable and their activity declines with time. Avoiding a falsely negative result is a challenge. The reagents I prepare for the assay can vary in activity depending on different lots from the chemical companies; all of this has to be accounted and adjusted. Even the ambient temperature of the laboratory can influence the speed of certain reactions.
If this was just an abstract study of chemical dynamics it would be an interesting but not particularly involving set of tasks. But this is not the case. A person's fate depends on what my solutions, test tubes and cuvettes reveal. It adds a level of responsibility and a level of satisfaction that is quite different from anything I have done before.