This blog is a collaborative effort between the Foundation for Student Science and Technology (formerly the Canadian Young Scientist Journal) and Science.gc.ca. Our aim is to offer an interactive platform where Canadian students can talk about their passions, challenges and ideas on how to further pursue scientific interests and education. We welcome new contributors -- if you are interested please contact us at information@science.gc.ca.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pathology : The Answer To Life And Death

Originally Published: August 21, 2014
By: Sarina Lalla

Pathology. While many of us may have heard such a term on shows such as CSI, for when a body at a crime scene needs to be examined through autopsy, how many of us really know what exactly it means?

Pathology is the study of any manifestations of illness or foul play that can touch an organ or any anatomical element. Simply put, let’s just say that there is a patient that either 1) has an illness or 2) is dead and we would like to know why. Pathology is a science that has the answers. How, you may ask? There are many steps that must be followed before the mysteries can be solved.

First of all, anything that passes through a pathology lab is referred to as a specimen. Specimens vary in size, as they can come from any part of the body. Heck, they can even be the whole body. These specimens come from clinics and hospitals, usually the ones closest to the pathology lab itself. Pathology labs are even usually part of some hospitals, which is more efficient : any specimen, which is unique and irreplaceable (ex. if the specimen’s a gallbladder, we only have one), can be analyzed without leaving the hospital.

So, the specimens are brought to the autopsy/biopsy room, where they are soaked in formalin. This disinfects them all while helping them maintain their form. Depending on the size of the specimen, it will soak in formalin from a couple of hours to a few days.
After that process, the specimens are examined by technicians and pathologists. The latter must make a gross description of the specimen (shape, consistency, presence of anomalys, cysts, tumors, etc) by making specific cuts through them and extracting pieces of tissue.
After the description is made, the pieces of tissue (which very much look like meat) are placed in small cassettes. Once all of the cassettes have been numbered, registered, and closed, they are placed in a machine that coats them in paraffin, or wax. Once they have become blocks of wax, they go through a histology lab, where a knife slices the blocks in strips of a micrometric thickness. These strips are then placed on microscope slides and, with the help of many chemicals, are colored and stuck to the slides.

Once these slides are finished, they are sent back to the pathologists, who must look at them through a microscope to see any microscopic abnormalities or pathogens. They then write anything that they notice and these notes, along with the gross desciption made initially, are sent to the doctors for a final diagnosis and to deliver the information to the patients.
In the case of an autopsy, a full body investigation, this series of steps is done on each organ that is deemed important to examine, like the heart, the brain, the kidneys, and the lungs. The patient is cut open very carefully so not to be too damaged (as many families like to have an open casket).

As an administrative agent working in a pathology lab this summer, I have seen some pretty amazing cases. Every day, there is something different to see : from ovarian cysts the size of beach balls with hair and teeth on them (!) to horseshoe kidneys (kidneys fused together) there is never a dull moment. And I have learned so much along the way, anatomically and in terms of diseases as well. So next time you get your tonsils removed, your wisdom teeth, that suspicious mole, at least you know where it goes now and why the results take some time before coming back!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

STEM Journey

Originally Published: August 19, 2014
By: Osman Sharif

“Do you want to change the world...?”

I was taken aback, bewildered, spaced out... being asked if I wanted to change the world, if I wanted to be that very person that sparked a light of innovation in life. I was at a loss of words. As my life was always restricted to school and friends, things like making change and a difference was never part of my vocabulary. I was always preoccupied at my own life; I never gave a moment’s glance at others... until I reached high school.

Karate lessons, swimming, leisurely biking, playing basketball or reading classic books, nothing compared to the love I shared for science. Grade Nine is where I formed a passion for the workings of the world-- a world where a heartbeat is more complex than words alone to describe, a world where millions of organisms smaller than the naked eye can detect living in unison for the benefit of mankind and a world where one must die in order to understand the true nature of death. Science is itself unexplainable. With so many discoveries yet to be found, I was overwhelmed with the endless possibilities yet to be unraveled.

The words were echoed through my mind louder and louder. I understand what it meant to change. Changing the world is not a superhuman task only targeted for the ones endowed with prophet hood or intelligence. Any man has the ability to make a difference, not only because of his brilliant plans and strategic executions; however, it is the motive, a calling from within. I wanted to be that difference.

As I advanced throughout the years, I learned more and more about the recent advances about cancer. I attended stem cells lectures and researched on my own about the very nature of cancer. I became more and more interested to find a solution not only for cancer, but for AIDS, Schizophrenia, and Congophilic Angiopathy-- any disease yet to cured.
I fully grasped the meaning of the word “change” and realized that I wanted to be that difference in humanity--a change of innovation, a benefit for humanity, a legacy that will be remembered throughout the ages. Science is a continuous process, not a body of knowledge. It is continuously striving through thought and reason which is in short supply nowadays. By continually learning the subject I hold dear, I want to show the world and the people within the greatest innovator that ever walked this earth where the past, the present and the future gasp at my very name: Osman Sharif.

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but building the new” –Socrates