Time to feed the babies (piglets)!
A while back I conceived the idea that it would be fun to write a book about my experience from during graduate school. I haven't worked on it in a while, but I did write a prologue. So here it is!
It’s three o’clock in the morning. I’m taping a thin catheter to my double gloved hands. I make sure the end of the catheter makes it to the end of my index finger. It’s hot, probably around 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the room I’m working in. I’m in a fresh set of scrubs, as well as a full body Tyvek suit. I made my hair bun too tight, but I can’t fix it because I’ve got a hair net on and my gloves are clean. Baby piglets are screaming for their food as I am prepping to feed them. I finish taping my finger, and I double check to make sure the catheter is secure. Nothing is more annoying than this catheter falling off and then having to re-tape it. It’s the small things in life. I pick up a sixty milliliter syringe and walk over to what we call a “bus”. It’s a bright yellow deck that looks like a large plastic container where we currently have six newborn piglets.
The piglets run to the front of the bus. I pick one up at random and sit down with them on my lap. He’s frantically trying to find my finger so he can feed. He finds it and starts to suckle as I release milk replacer from the 60 mL syringe attached to the catheter. The milk replacer trickles from my finger and into my lab. Nothing is more fun than being in a 90 degree room, with a Tyvek with milk replacer dripping all over your thighs.
Every few months my lab mates and myself would act as mothers to our newborn piglets. These weren’t just ordinary pigs. These were piglets afflicted with a genetic disease called severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID. In 1983 the first mouse model was described that had SCID. Animals with SCID are extremely useful for biomedical researchers because such animals do not have a functional immune system, and thus can be engrafted with human cells.
Our pigs are raised in biocontainment facilities, or “bubbles”, that protect them from harmful pathogens. As such, these pigs require a lot of care and handling. Working with these animals was an extremely unique experience that I had during my graduate school years. This book describes the story of the discovery of these fascinating animals and how our lab has made progress towards utilizing them for new facets of biomedical research.