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My month as an honorary Indonesian

When School of Biomedical Sciences Honours student, Jenjira Mountford, was offered an opportunity to take up a fieldwork placement in Jakarta, Indonesia, as part of her project, she enthusiastically accepted. Jenjira spent a very productive month in Indonesia collecting data for her thesis. She recounts her experience below.

The project

My project is investigating the roles of chemokines in HIV-Associated Sensory Neuropathy by measuring chemokine levels in plasmas of HIV patients. The project continues from a longitudinal study (JakCCANDO) initiated by my supervisor, Associate Professor Patricia Price, in 2008, and run by Dr Riwanti Estiasari at Cipto Mangunkosomo Hospital, Jakarta, Indonesia. It is a study of chronic cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection with evaluations of neurocognitive, cardiovascular and retinal health in 82 HIV+ patients beginning Antiretroviral therapy (ART). The project has been extended with a cross-sectional study of neuropathy in patients (n=~300), run by Dr Fitri Octaviana at the same location.

First thoughts

In an Honours interview, Associate Professor Patricia Price suggested that there was a place available for laboratory fieldwork. However, this required me doing a month’s fieldwork in Jakarta. Jakarta wow, never been there! I jumped at the chance.

Jenjira recieved a warm welcome from the team in Jakarta.
Jenjira recieved a warm welcome from the team in Jakarta.

The lab

It is located within Cipto Mangunkosomo Hospital, 15 minutes away from the main University of Indonesia campus. Their main focus is on developing various types of vaccines, including a HIV vaccine. The facility was of a very professional standard. The set up was very different from CHIRI. In some aspects, they’re much stricter. For example, all clothes must be changed to a lab gown, and a cap and mask must be worn before entering any DNA room. One thing I found very odd is that outside shoes are not allowed inside the main lab area. There are communal shoes (not all closed shoes, surprisingly some are slip on Crocs shoes!).

The people

Unsurprisingly, most people thought that I was Indonesian. Many conversations were short and one sided. Despite that, everyone I encountered was so warm and friendly. When I entered Jakarta, Tricia’s then-Master student, Ibnu (now completed), picked me up from the airport and was amazing throughout my time there. The lab director, researchers and PhD and Honours students were all wonderful hosts. Also, our direct collaborators, Dr Fitri and Dr Yanuar (neurologist), who took skin biopsies for our immunohistochemical study, and Dr Riwanti, who ran the longitudinal project, were all warm, welcoming and supportive. I had the opportunity to observe the collection of skin biopsies and experience the clinical side of my research.

The team breaking-the-fast together at IHVCB UI lab, one week before Ramadan ended.
The team breaking-the-fast together at IHVCB UI lab, one week before Ramadan ended.

The results

Despite some minor difficulties beyond the research facility’s control, such as power outages, I obtained sound results that are in line with my hypothesis and can be used for my final thesis. Overall a very worthwhile international lab work experience!

Jenjira Mountford

School of Biomedical Sciences.