Christina Vlad

About Me:

I am a special education teacher at a big vocational high school in Danvers, MA. My background is in Biology and Public Health.  I worked for both the Harvard School of Public Health and Health & Welfare Canada helping to investigate the effects of air pollution on human health.  I also worked at the Boston Museum of Science, which helped push me towards the field of education.  I have worked in therapeutic schools and a community college, in addition to a vocational school.  I love kids who are “underdogs” and want them to be exposed to fun science.   I want to make sure all kids have access to labs, problem based learning and fun.

About the Lab:

I am working in the Lab of Jagan Srinivasan, in the Systems Neuroscience Lab at WPI.  The microscopic worm, C. elegans is the star of the show and a work horse in the field of biological studies.  Dr. Srinivasan and his students are studying the neurobiological response to a variety of sensory information on behavior of the worm.  This summer I am  investigating the effects of vaping and on C. elegans.  Changes in behavior are a proxy for effects on the nervous system.  Changes in behavior in response to vape fluid may give us insight into the impact of vaping on youth and young adults.  I’m working with 2 PhD students, Liz Diloreto and Caroline Muirhead, as well as my teaching colleague, Rachael Adamski.

Project: The Effects of Vaping on C. elegans

Weekly Updates:

  • Week 1:
    We were introduced to Dr. Srinivasan and Liz and Caroline introduced us to C. elegans and had us prepare agar plates for the worms to feed on.  This was done by “seeding” the plate with a noninfectious, nonpathogenic form of the bacteria, E. coli.  We then learned how to “pick” the worms or, pick up and transfer individual worms to another agar plate.  This process is done regularly, perhaps weekly, as a way to maintain the worm population and be able to transfer worms of a specific age onto plates for various assays.  We also learned how to identify worms in the various developmental stages (larvae 1, 2, 3 and 4, as well as the adult form of the worm).  We also started to review the literature in order to start acquiring the background information needed to understand what we are doing.In between all this, we learned about the various behavioral assays that can be run with C. elegans,  We did this by accompanying Liz and Caroline as they taught the Frontiers of Neuroscience summer program for high school students.  We learned along side the students and helped out where we could.  We also met other faculty in the cell biology and soil science programs, whose office were near by.

    A map of worm connectome


  • Week 2:
    We started the week by continuing our literature review and trying to identify and select the vaping liquid/s we can use for our own study.  Additionally, Caroline and Liz instructed us in how to create the chemotaxis medium on which the chemotaxis assays are carried out.  We also learned how to “wash” worms off an agar plate, so that a large population of worms can be transferred to the test plate. We had to do math.  Ugh.  But, in the end, it was fine and we successfully mixed the wash solution.  The plan for the rest of the week is to run some chemotaxis studies as practice and preparation for when we run real assays and start data collection.
    We also hung out with the Frontiers of Neuroscience class Liz and Caroline were instructing.  We learned a ton, right alongside the kids.
Frontiers of Neuroscience youth being excited and goofy.


Serious business

Week 3:Practiced doing some of the assays we discussed as a group.  These include a chemotaxis assay, life span assay and egg laying assay.  Some problems became apparent such as the time it takes to pick worms, developing data collections sheets and labeling system, maintaining worms so there is always a “stock” supply.  Things went fairly well, but doing 3-4 new tests all at the same time wasn’t ideal and became a bit much in terms of picking worms and keeping track of plates.  We also started the poster using, which proves to be a very good resource.

Waiting for worms to chemotax
  • Week 4:
    Ran tests for actual data collection. Given the time needed to pick worms we decided not to do the life span study, but focus on egg laying, chemotaxis and a thrashing assay.  Again, the question was, will worms raised on low or high concentrations of vape liquid respond differently compared to controls.  In parallel, we have prepared a fair bit of the poster for our final presentation.  We also participating in a Journal Club with the lab group: Liz, Caroline, Sam Isife and Jean-Eves Ekret.  We discussed studies involving sleep in C. elegans (do they sleep) and learning in C. elegans.  

    Prepping the plates and looking sciency.
  • Week 5:
    We ran into some problems in getting lab results, in part due to the weekend.  It was difficult for me to tell the initial worms from all the worms on the plate in the life span assay.  For both egg laying and life span assays we decided to restart them, thinking there was enough time to get good results during the week. However, the worms for both assays seemed die, possibly due to injury when picked and passed.  Unfortunately, we had to abandon the tests and decided to do another assay, thrashing assay, to get some useful data. We completed the three chemotaxis assays and compiled the results.  Nicotine vape product negatively impacted both the thrashing behavior and attraction/avoidance of the worm to known appealing substance.  This indicates that nicotine vape product is having an effect on the nervous system of the worm.  Changes in behavior in response to a chemical indicates a change to the nervous system, which in turn reflects a change at the level of gene expression.  Exploring how vape product is producing this effect might be further areas of exploration.

    Caroline and Liz show us examples of posters!

Our Final Poster:

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