• WhiteFeather Hunter

#phdlife report - field work

A mad dash -- from the blustery Canadian winter, to the tropical respite of a North Pacific archipelago over Christmas, and on to Southeast Asian climes (which includes Western Australia), where I now gnash my teeth for the next five months over the institutional bureaucracy that shapes my current research-creation capabilities. This is my PhD life.

I worked steadily over the Christmas holiday, distilling a 12,000 word text I wrote on witchcraft and technology, down to 6000 words (among other things - proposals, etc). Though, who could complain about working under palm trees? Not I. What I can complain about, however, is that I have done so much paperwork so far with this PhD that I've hardly had time to produce new artwork and that is anathema to my soul.

My research, which may now commence in earnest, having fulfilled all the ethics clearance and biosafety requirements, and initial collection of baseline cell growth data (all of which took a year), is represented by this process documentation photo:

What you see is a glass petri dish containing steamy, fresh menstrual fluid that I collected using a commercially-available, medical grade silicone menstrual cup. This bloody fluid, richly potent with stem cells and growth factors, is what I am now using to extract serum for creating a new nutrient media for tissue culture. I am the first to do this in vitro menstrual tissue culture experiment, though it should *really* be a no-brainer. It IS the yolk of human life. I have also recently cultured the centrifuged (separated) tissue matter contained in the menstrual fluid, and now have a healthy explant culture of rapidly proliferating stem cells, my very own.

Menstrual fluid tissue explant with stem cells proliferating.

Social factors such as taboos around women's bodies and reproductive capacity, biochemical variability and disease risk factors, and the simple fact of masculine hegemony in STEM fields may be to account for the relative lack of research using this incredibly physiologically-appropriate substance, for biotechnological science. Standardized venous human serum (available from laboratory supply companies) typically comes only from males though I have recently found one supplier that will provide venous human female serum if a special request is made... but only if 100 bottles are purchased at a time. So it is, for all intents and purposes, not readily accessible like human male serum is.

But now, folks, we have the world's first human menstrual serum, produced by yours truly.

Behold! The world's first human menstrual serum. Right tube is extracted from January 2020 collection period, while left tube is extracted from February 2020 collection period. Let me say a word about the collection process.

For the first six months of my PhD, I had to produce copious amounts of bureaucratic documentation in order to obtain multiple levels of approval to even be allowed to work with my own menstrual blood. The bureaucratic bodies were quite unwilling to lend approval to any such endeavour, and I had to fight for it, constantly incredulous at the ludicrousness of the requirements. After exhaustive hoop-jumping, I finally gained approval, 8 months later. Part of the documentation was explicit information on how the menstrual fluid would be collected, stored, transported, used and then discarded. This was written in clear institutional language, following numerous biosafety protocols to ensure complete containment. In actual fact, however, the collection process has been messy, non-sterile and all over the place (pretty much uncontained). It is my uterus that determines the timing and location of the collection, since I must empty the menstrual cup when it begins to overflow.

One such collection time (in fact, last month) occurred in the unlikeliest of places, since I was on an extended weekend road trip whilst also having my period. Leakage was fairly constant despite my best efforts at containment, and fluid collection became a bit of a roadside emergency at one point. I found myself squatting half-naked on the gravel, in the middle of the Stirling mountain range that had recently been ravaged by wildfire, unscrewing a centrifuge tube with one hand while pulling out a menstrual cup with the other hand, pouring the contents into the tube, labeling it, bagging it and popping it into a Styrofoam cooler box with half-melted ice packs. I had no gloves, and performed a laboratory protocol in the open air, in what we might consider a sterile landscape, had it not been just then blossoming with a thousand grass tree blossoms. I am happy to report that my sample collection out in the 'field' did not become contaminated whatsoever and my experiments chug along full speed ahead.

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