Ciao! This is Vaidehi Roy Chowdhury, a second-year PhD student working under the supervision of Prof Michele Vendruscolo at the Centre for Misfolding Diseases, Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge. I am also ESR11 in the Bio2Brain MSCA-ITN, where my goal is to develop novel immunotherapeutics against crucial molecular targets implicated in debilitating neuronal diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS).

One of the primary steps in validating the activity of any drug or antibody is to test them against their targets in cell models. Hence, it is crucial to be able to culture the necessary cell types in vitro and to perform the required functional assays. To receive a training in mammalian cell models for MS, I recently visited the Biophysics Biophotonics Lab of Dr Martino Calamai at the European Laboratory for Non-Linear Spectroscopy (LENS) in Florence, Italy, for two weeks (from 22nd May to 2nd June 2023). In this brief but intense period, I developed my skills at handling cell cultures (with a range of immortalised cell lines), transfection, protein expression, labelling antibodies, immunocytochemistry, fluorescence and confocal microscopy and single-molecule tracking of molecular dynamics, all thanks to the kind supervision and unwavering guidance of Marta Rojas Rodríguez (ESR7) as well as the regular scientific discussions with Dr Calamai. I also learned how animal tissue samples are prepared for imaging. I was awed by seeing how a light-sheet microscope, built in-house with a decade of dedicated efforts, could produce intricately detailed images of these tissue samples.

During this period, I was not just sharing my time between the cell culture and microscopy labs but would also often end up finding myself engaged in deep discussions with physicists investigating optic properties of materials. This led to participation in meetings with other groups in the institute, such as the Complex Photonics Lab of Prof Diederik Wiersma.

Based in the beautiful foothills at Sesto Fiorentino, spring at LENS was not only about science and networking – it also involved team-building activities and exploring Florence together. I came back with more than a list of skills learned to add to my CV. I now have a different perspective of looking at life and a bag full of memories to help me maintain that perspective forever. I would like to thank Dr Calamai and Marta for hosting me, my colleagues Alexander Röntgen (ESR12) and Dalia Abdeldaim (ESR4) for their constant support during the learning process, all the researchers at LENS for their amicable nature, my supervisor Prof Vendruscolo for encouraging me to participate in this secondment, and, most importantly, the Bio2Brain ITN, for creating such an opportunity for me to participate in international collaborative research work. Florence, a city steeped in history, provides a humbling and educative atmosphere, and I could not have asked for a more memorable experience during my first ever secondment.

Lunch with the Calamai Group; in frame: (from left to right) Marta Rojas Rodríguez (ESR 7), Vaidehi Roy Chowdhury (ESR 11), Dalia Abdeldaim (ESR 4), Dr Costanza Ceni, Dr Martino Calamai and Alexander Röntgen (ESR 12)
Vaidehi Roy Chowdhury (ESR 11) with Marta Rojas Rodríguez (ESR 7) near LENS at the Sesto Fiorentino Campus of University of Florence