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A New Dress; St Louis CSL Event; Rain, Rain, Rain; Kathy Tristan and A Very Cool Medical Lab; CHO Cells; Ty as Igor?

In a Huge Husbandly Blunder, I neglected to include this photo of My Lovely Bride in my last post. She is showing off the beautiful flowers that Catherine Chiesa had most thoughtfully given her the night we got together for dinner, and the new dress she had found in a small boutique in Lake Bluff, Illinois. It’s not often that we go out for a dinner when she can dress up – my normal choice of dining establishments, Waffle House, does not have a very rigorous dress code… unless you think that shoes and a shirt are demanding.

We departed Great Lakes Naval Training Center on the 4th of July, heading south on the Interstate to St. Louis. Normally we like to drive on state highways to visit the small towns and cities that have been bypassed by the Interstate highways, but Suzanne’s speaking schedule is so busy this summer that we have had to rely on highways with higher speed limits to save time. 

Our next campground was in the city of St. Peters, Missouri, just south of the Missouri River, which was in flood stage. The area has had 12 consecutive weekends of rain, and while everything was very green, the Big Mo was spilling over its banks. Fortunately for the Independence Day holiday weekend, we enjoyed three days of warm, sunny weather before rain returned on Tuesday. Five nights in St. Peters allowed us to bike on paved bike paths, a good thing since the mountain bike trails were muddy or closed due to flooding. We also took advantage of the town’s RecPlex, which has a natatorium, weight room, cardio room, basketball courts, and even a hockey rink. Just a few minutes before this image was taken, the rink was mobbed with kids on skates. Suzanne went back to the car later to get the camera, and by the time she returned, the ice rink had closed and was deserted. I mentioned to My Lovely Bride that I had thought about grabbing my skates and a stick and practicing my slap shots… she guffawed and asked with a sly smile, “Oh, were you also a hockey star back in New Orleans, as well as being a downhill ski racer on Monkey Hill in City Park?” (She has a really good memory about some of my stories.) 

Before the rains came, we enjoyed an afternoon exploring the quaint town of St. Charles, MO.  This is one of the oldest towns in Missouri, having been settled by French Canadians in 1769. St. Charles’ Old Town has been very well preserved… even to its only slightly bumpy cobblestone streets.

History buffs may recall that St. Charles was the rendezvous site of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in May, 1804. President Thomas Jefferson had commissioned the expedition, called the Corps of Discovery, shortly after the Louisiana Purchase agreement with France in 1803. It would turn out to be one of the most important and successful expeditions in American history. Two US Army officers, Captain Merriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark, were chosen by the president to lead the expedition. Lewis went to Philadelphia to study botany, mathematics, cartography, and anatomy, while Clark spent months with Jefferson at Monticello preparing for the expedition. Jefferson was one of the most brilliant Americans living, and had an amazing library and a laboratory with many scientific instruments.


Lewis and Clark led a group of 33 men (and ultimately, one Shoshone Indian woman, Sacajawea) from Missouri to the Pacific Ocean and back, mapping mountains and rivers, dealing with 70 Indian tribes, naming over 200 new species of plants and animals, and being chased by dozens of grizzly bears. They were also almost attacked by four larger groups of heavily armed Spanish soldiers sent from Mexico to stop their expedition, but Lewis and Clark’s rapid progress across Nebraska kept them ahead of the Spaniards.  


Now, to the reason for our returning to St. Louis… Suzanne spoke at both Sunday services at the Center for Spiritual Living on Fee Fee Road. She had been invited back by Rev. Marigene DeRusha, and we had enjoyed the CSL community so much that it was an easy decision to come back to Cardinal land. Then on Tuesday evening, she gave her Awakened Living 301 presentation to a very large and enthusiastic group in the CSL sanctuary.  

Special thanks go out to Marcia Walton for her warm introduction and discussion of the benefits of Suzanne’s S.O.A.R! course; we may have to get a larger coach to take Marcia on tour with us next summer – she is amazing!  

Another CSL member we need to recognize is Kathy Tristan, author of “Why Worry? Stop Coping and Start Living”. (You can order her excellent book on Amazon.) Kathy is also a medical laboratory director at Washington University’s Medical School, and took the day off to give us a guided tour of her lab. It was an amazing day, and we learned so much about the fascinating world of medical science – I may have to go back and get a biology degree!

Kathy works in the Division of Rheumatology, on the 10th floor of the Medical School, which is also a teaching hospital. This is a huge facility, with about 5,000 staff, and treats 430,000 patients every year in two major hospitals and 35 office locations in the St. Louis metro area. Kathy teaches doctors, PhD candidates/graduates, and medical lab techs about medical research.

Kathy got official and donned her white lab coat for our tour and training. Did I say “training”? Yes, she thought that we might be marginally trainable as brand new, off-the-street lab tech interns, and gave us the initial “hand-eye coordination” and “this is a pipette and how to work it” lectures. My Lovely Bride seemed to pick it up pretty quickly – she was once a qualified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), so her interest in this area runs deep.

This image shows Apprentice Lab Tech Suzy skillfully dispensing .005 mL of harmless water from a single-channel pipette into a test tube. Kathy had me do the same, but may have been put off when I asked if I could have one of the pipettes to more accurately mix my gins and tonic… (I just looked on line to order one, and found that they run a steep $225-$298 per pipette… I’ll stick to my $2 USMC shot glass!)

Next Kathy showed us this small tabletop centrifuge, used for separating DNA and blood samples (and mixing 007’s martini?) These things spin at 10,000-15,000 rpm, and cost about $3,000-$4,000 each. The larger versions are much more expensive. 

Next came the liquid nitrogen freezers for snacks and pizza… oops, they are actually for freezing tissue and blood samples… down to about -220F, which is still not as cold as Coon Rapids, Minnesnowta, gets during October cold snaps. Kathy donned a really snappy-looking blue glove to pull these samples, otherwise her fingers would have been frozen solid in seconds. The nitrogen spilling out of the freezer reminded me of scenes from one of my all-time favorite medical research movies, Young Frankenstein. But we won’t go there, in deference to Kathy and her colleagues…     


We next visited the electron microscopy lab, with some of the coolest equipment I’ve ever seen. How would you like to be able to look into the structure of a cell, and be able to look at strands of DNA? Here we see Wandy Beatty, the lab director, trying to explain to Der Blogmeister and His Lovely Bride the inner workings of the electron microscope, the piece of equipment on the left (and you can only see about half of it!) This is NOT your high school chemistry lab piece of equipment… 

The history major in our group (Your Humble Correspondent) was having a tough time understanding how one can peer into the nucleus of a cell, the image of which on a computer monitor looks to be the size of a baseball. A trained observer can pick out mitochondria, individual viruses, DNA and proteins, and tell whether a cell is healthy or dying. (Absolutely incredible… we were stunned by the views of slices of cells currently in the microscope shown in these images.)

Back in her lab, Kathy showed us her colleague Richard Hauhart working in the lab. We watched for a few minutes as he worked with specialized flasks in which millions of antibody-producing cells are continuously growing. These cells secrete specific kinds of antibody proteins into the liquid of the chamber. First he removed the old media (containing the antibody protein), saves it for later purification, and then he pipettes new ‘food’ into it. The food is a cherry Koolaid-colored type of nutrient liquid that needs to be replenished about twice a week (but bet it doesn’t taste that good, except to the cells!).  The box of medical equipment waste next to him was filling up slowly but surely. It would later be incinerated to ensure its safe disposal. I asked Kathy about the expense involved in lab tests and pharmaceutical development, and she reminded me that it is not unusual for development of a new drug to cost around $1 Billion!!! (And that probably doesn’t include legal fees when the scum-sucking sharks gather in a feeding frenzy in one of their favorite feeding troughs, “Big Pharma”.)

This poster on a lab refrigerator door requires some explanation, unless you’re a medical lab tech. CHO cells are derived from Chinese Hamster Ovaries. The cell lines are used for biological and medical research (such as genetics, toxicity screening, nutrition and gene expression) as well as in the commercial production of therapeutic proteins. 

Kathy tried to explain the nature of endoplastic reticulum, a type of organelle in the cells of eukaryotic organisms that forms a network of flattened, membrane-enclosed sacs or tubes called cisternae. I think she was worried about me for a moment – my eyes were glazing over and my breathing became shallow and rapid. (Biology was never my strong suit.)


All in all, our day with Kathy was one of the most interesting we’ve ever spent anywhere, and we were very grateful for her time and the 35 years of knowledge and experience she shared with us so graciously. Kathy even offered me a summer internship in her lab… it’s a tempting offer; wearing a lab coat would be tres chic… but a black hooded cape would be even more fun, a la Igor (Marty Feldman)…

1 Comment

  • lynette
    Posted July 31, 2015 at 10:33 am

    Loved this. So funny. And the trip through the lab fascinating. Spent most weekends as a child in my father's lab at Conoco, then ran around a hospital lab while my sister worked for years thereafter. Love the equipment, the microscopes, the magic of looking into the interior of things usually hidden. Remarkable. Also, did I say funny?


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