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A Look Inside DeSales University’s Cell Culture Suite

by Janelle Hill | Nov 21, 2017

There’s a flurry of activity inside the lab as the day’s experiment gets underway. Students, dressed in white lab coats, dart past one another as they grab gloves, a waste beaker, and a bottle of ethanol. They then begin the meticulous task of wiping down their workstations, or hoods, before the real fun begins. 

On this day, the students in Dr. Joshua Slee’s Introduction to Cell Culture class are preparing to stain their Chinese hamster ovary cells, a common research cell line that they’ve been working with all semester. 

The cell culture suite that they’re in is just one of the things that makes the biology program at DeSales University so unique. The centerpiece of the Priscilla Payne Hurd Science Center was designed to accommodate up to 24 students performing cell culture at the same time.

“We are a student-centered department and we allow students from the very early stages to get hands-on experience in the lab,” says Slee, assistant professor of biology who also uses the lab for his own research on cardiovascular disease. 

“If you go to a larger school, you have lab techs that do all the work for you. Here at DeSales, the students are interacting one-on-one with the equipment. That’s a huge advantage from freshman year on.” 

Slee is passionate about research and he goes to great lengths to ensure that his students are too. He incorporates course-based undergraduate research experiences – or CURES – into his classes, where students do authentic research in lab courses.

He also conducts research alongside six to 10 students during any given semester. Their work is then published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at local and regional conferences. 

“Our students are very outgoing in their desire to do research,” he says. “This lab gives them the resources and the tools to do it.”

Slee is so dedicated to student research that he and Dr. Lara Goudsouzian, assistant professor of biology, established the Lehigh Valley Molecular & Cell Biology Society. The annual conference is held at DeSales and allows students from around the region to show off their work and to see what kinds of research their peers are doing.

“We sat down together and decided that there was an absence of regional conferences in molecular and cell biology,” says Slee. “We felt that was doing students a real disservice because there was no avenue for them to present their research to their peers and also to others in the field.”

Students in Slee’s class will soon have something new to show off. Along with the Chinese hamster ovary cells, students will also harvest cells from a cow aorta. The experiment is something Slee has done as part of his research, and he knows how important this type of real-world experience can be. 

“If you work in a hospital or research setting, you may need to isolate cells from tissue biopsies or research animals,” he says. “It gives students the opportunity to have tangible skills related to cell culture research because they’re actually taking a tissue that was in a recently living animal and then isolating living cells from it.” 

Slee’s passion and enthusiasm for biology is infectious. He and the rest of the faculty go to great lengths to ensure that their students succeed.

“They know you personally,” says Megan Arnold ’18. “There’s so much more of an emphasis on making that relationship and making that student connection. I can tell my professors care about me and about how I’m doing.” 

“The teachers here love what they do,” adds Eric Barnello, a biology major and ACCESS student. “That rubs off on everybody else. You really get that sense of excitement.” 

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