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  • Writer's pictureThe Rivers School

Vanessa Xue '23 & Michael Wu '23: Antagen Pharmaceuticals

This summer we were fortunate enough to intern under Dr. Gao at Antagen Pharmaceuticals Inc. based in Canton, MA. Previously, Antagen made COVID-19 detection kits but has shifted focus to developing more efficient antibodies and proteins to fight cancer. With decades of experience, Dr. Gao has published multiple articles in collaboration with notable associations like BU and Harvard. Under Dr. Gao, we worked alongside four other interns and had a great experience working in the lab and learning about molecular biology and biochemistry.

In the beginning, we were taught basic techniques for proper pipetting, labeling, and sterilization. Even for aspects as simple as labeling, Dr. Gao stressed the importance of detailed labeling and activity logging to avoid confusion. We also carried out more menial tasks like putting new sterile pipette tips into containers for future use and assembling COVID test kits. For more complex procedures, we observed Dr. Gao and other coworkers before finally executing the protocols ourselves, and, after a few repetitions, we were able to efficiently perform protocols on our own. Some of these protocols include:

  • Running DNA through an agarose gel to characterize and confirm DNA

  • Making Agarose gel

  • Bacteria Transformation to insert specific DNA into bacteria

  • Mini Preps to extract DNA from bacteria

  • PCRs to amplify DNA

  • Transfecting DNA into cells

  • Inoculating Bacteria to cultivate growth

  • Staining cells

Our goal during this internship was to assist Dr. Gao in furthering his molecular “soccer ball” project. This project focused on developing a more efficient way to deliver more antibodies and antigens to cancer cells in order to elicit stronger cell responses. We started by creating a 3D model of what the desired “soccer ball” would look like. The structure of the soccer ball consists of trimers and pentamers that are bound together using the molecular structures foldon, and comp. In the picture, each black dot represents a trimer, where three foldons meet; the white dots represent pentamers, where five comps meet.

A major part of making antibodies and proteins is the transfection of DNA into CHO (Chinese hamster ovary) cells, or in simple terms, electroporation. Electroporation is a process that gives cells an electric pulse, opening temporary pores in the cell membrane which allows the DNA to pass into the cell. Once the DNA is transfected, the CHO cells will secrete the desired antibodies and proteins. During the electroporation process, Dr. Gao emphasized the importance of keeping a sterile workspace and contamination outside the hood. The hood is a contamination-free lab space with an air curtain to block air-born particles and a plastic face shield.

We also observed another procedure that Dr. Mao, an associate of Dr. Gao’s, was running on mice. Antagen uses mice to test antibody responses to certain proteins, antibodies, and molecules. Dr. Mao inserted antibodies and proteins through the tail vein and waited a few days to see results. In order to acquire particular blood cells, antibodies, and proteins from the mice, Dr. Mao used CO2 to kill the mice; once dead, he dissected them. He carefully retrieved the spleens of each mouse in order to use and study the cells located in them.

This internship was a great experience for us. We developed unique in-person lab skills, learned more about molecular and biotechnology, and enhanced our social skills while learning the importance of working with colleagues. We would like to thank Dr. Gao and Antagen for hosting us and giving us the opportunity to learn from him, and we would also like to thank Mr. Schlenker for giving us this opportunity.


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