Blog: Backstage at the PMU

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I’m standing in the hallway of the GMP facility. A thick glass window separates me from the scientist inside. She is wearing sterile clothes and a surgical mask while working concentrated with the microscope. The laboratory is only provided with basic equipment: A table, a chair, some electronic devices, not more. 

But let me start at the beginning.
I’m at the Paracelsus Medical School Salzburg (PMU) with a number of loyal Wings for Life supporters. This lab tour should provide them with a deeper knowledge of research and how their donations are being invested. 
Professor Ludwig Aigner, head of the institute for experimental neurosurgery, welcomes us and starts with an interesting lesson.

What happens inside the human body after a spinal cord injury? Which approaches are promising? Moreover: What does it take to get from the idea to an effective treatment? Cool. I’ve been working at Wings for Life for quite some time now. Though, I always learn new things. 

Next stop: The labs. Ludwig’s colleague Laura is looking into ways how to grow neurons. She shows us some cells that have been removed from the spinal cord 24 hours ago. These cells have been put into a biological nutrient media. Indeed, we can see in comparison that the cell’s size increased to a certain degree. Exciting!   

When entering the next room we experience freezing coldness. Simone, who is responsible for molecular regenerative medicine, gives us the reason why: “You can see technical equipment that costs a fortune. Overheating would cause severe damage.”
The confocal laser microscope is one of those high-tech devices. In contrast to a standard microscope you are able to scan every single layer of the tissue. On the monitor, we can see the spinal cord in cross section. There are countless nerve fibres. Thick ones, thin ones. If you look carefully you can even see the myelin layer around the nerve fibres. 

Our trip ends at the GMP facility. Drugs or cell products must meet strict quality requirements before they can be used in the clinic. This “product quality check” is being done in the GMP. Since everything is sterile, scientists must follow a certain procedure. Protective clothing must be worn all times. The scientists need to wear even two pairs of gloves in different colours to locate potential holes.
Protective clothing must be worn all times. The scientists need to wear even two pairs of gloves in different colours to locate potential holes. 

Entrance is only possible if you successfully pass the fingerprint scanner and several air locks. ‘Feels a bit like being in James Bond movie’ comes in my mind before I watch through the thick glass window again. 

Elisa Krimbacher has been working for Wings for Life since 2010. She is responsible for international events and takes care of our partners and ambassadors.