Latest News

Instruct Internship success stories: Amal Hassan


The Instruct Internship Programme funds research visits of 3-6 months duration to Instruct Centres in Europe. The aim is to facilitate valuable collaborations with Instruct research groups applying techniques that are not available in the applicant’s laboratory. Applications should specifically focus on the benefit to the applicant’s research. Internships may be hosted at any institution that hosts an Instruct Centre, providing the applicant is a resident of a different full Instruct member country at the time of making the application.

Here we share a success story of Amal Hassan who was funded by Instruct for her internship to Instruct Israel centre. Over to Amal:

Baculovirus expression and purification of murine acid-sensing ion channel ASIC1a: a promising target in neurological disorders

Amal Hassan, 26 years old and originally from Nazareth, Israel, moved to Italy for purpose of study up to date. I am currently a 2nd year-PhD student at the Structural Biology Unit (SBU), in Milan under the supervision of Prof. Martino Bolognesi.

The main aim of my Ph.D. project is the structural and biochemical characterization of mammalian Acid-Sensing Ion Channel, specifically the ASIC1, which will greatly aid in the design of potent, isoform-selective inhibitors. Since the purified ASIC1a protein will be used for biochemical studies along with crystallization in the presence of synthesized inhibitors, it is essential to produce ASIC1a in large quantities and high purity. Although E. coli is usually the organism of choice, my preliminary trials on the production of mouse ASIC1a were unsuccessful. Therefore, I decided to move to a different expression system, i.e. baculovirus/insect cell, which has been shown to provide a good yield of the chicken variant of the protein. The use of eukaryotic cell expression systems, as an alternative to bacteria, is becoming very common and is an essential skill for all researchers in the structural biology field. However, neither I nor my supervisors have extensive experience in recombinant protein expression in eukaryotic cells.

Therefore, due to the absence of appropriate instruments/facilities in our laboratory, I felt that Instruct internship represented a great opportunity for me to learn all the techniques related to eukaryotic cells handling, maintenance and novel methodologies for producing recombinant proteins in such systems.

The Instruct Internship Programme is funding my research visit of 4-months duration to the Instruct-ISPC Center at the Weizmann Institute from my home lab in Milan. In fact, the aim of the internship programme is to facilitate valuable collaborations with Instruct research groups applying techniques that were not available to the applicants and focused on the applicant research.

Although my internship is only at the beginning, I have already started to gain knowledge and good practical experience with number of new techniques in the ISPC such as the Restriction_Free (RF)-cloning method, mammalian tissue culture, handling viral production and expression in sf9 insect cells. In next months, together with the ISPC’s expertise, I am going to produce two constructs of full length ASIC1a in large quantities in order to set up some crystallization trials.

I am very grateful to be funded by Instruct and able to do this training in one of the most prestigious Institutes of science in the world, in my country with a special taste.

Finally, I think that even if It’s so easy to keep our head down and to focus solely on our current research, but we also have to put some thought into where we want to be in the next years. It’s a competitive world out there, but there are also a wide range of opportunities we can take on, just need to use our resources wisely.