In Focus:- A DPhil Student in China

In this article one of our DPhil students shares their recent experience of visiting China.

Mr Henry Laurenson-Schafer is a DPhil Student in Tao Dong's Lab Group which is based at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine. In the feature below he tells us about his recent experience in China:

My stay in China was an exciting and rewarding experience. While I was only able to stay from the 8th of February to the 16th of February, I feel as if I learned a great deal about the science and culture of China. I especially appreciated the graciousness of my hosts; I always felt more than welcome during my stay, and was impressed with the work ethic and diligence displayed by all the collaborators I had the pleasure of working with.

As a PhD student at Oxford, I was afforded the opportunity to travel to Beijing to work on a collaborative project with the You’An hospital. My supervisor at Oxford, Professor Tao Dong, was kind enough to offer me this opportunity to extend my research. Under the direction of Dr. Yonghong Zhang, the director of scientific research, I was able to process a great deal of samples from patients of the hospital. These blood samples provided a rare and unique opportunity to analyse patients affected by pandemic flu virus with a range of severities and genetic backgrounds. The members of the lab use the mornings to perform lab work that varies day by day, while the afternoon is spent processing an impressive number of blood samples for storage in the facility’s biobank. This biobank is an extremely wealthy resource for examining a number of viral diseases. A great deal of care is taken to ensure the samples are of the highest quality possible for future experiments.

Professor Cao with Mr Laurenson-Schafer and Dr Makvandi-Nejad
Professor Cao with Mr Laurenson-Schafer & Dr Makvandi-Nejad

I was assisted personally by two of the researchers, Jinhua and Jianping, working at the You’An hospital. Both were very kind-hearted, and made a great deal of effort to ensure my transition from the Oxford labs was as smooth as possible. With the help of Dr. Shokouh Makvandi-Nejad, my co-worker from Oxford, I extracted both RNA and genomic DNA from each sample, with the intention of creating a library of cDNA from each sample. This library could be used in RNA-sequencing analysis, which will provide invaluable insight into innate immunity during flu infections. With a large number of samples, it would not have been possible to complete this without their help. A particular highlight was the opportunity to meet Dr. Xuetao Cao, the president of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences. It was quite an honour to be able to meet such an important figure.

Members of the lab in Beijing were also kind enough to show us some of the cultural highlights Beijing had to offer. I particularly enjoyed visiting the Great Wall of China. Since learning about it as a young child, I have always wanted to visit the Great Wall; it was fantastic to finally realise this. Overall, I enjoyed my collaboration with the You’An hospital very much, and hope I will be able to return in the future!