If you had told me this time last year that there would be a global pandemic, I wouldn’t have believed it. COVID-19 has disrupted the normal flow of life more than anything else has in my lifetime, and it just so happened to occur during the time I planned on doing a summer internship.
I remained optimistic, although many of my friends and peers were receiving e-mails stating that their summer internships had been canceled due to fear of the pandemic. One afternoon though, I received a call from Lonza Biologics in Portsmouth, NH, offering a summer intern position with its quality control microbiology team. I was beyond excited, but also very nervous. The number of cases was rising and I had remained relatively quarantined since spring break.
Upon entering the facility’s parking garage, there is a temperature check where a wristband is given to wear throughout the day. Masks must also be worn throughout the building, and social distancing is enforced as well. This took some getting used to, as was my new internship. One of the biggest struggles of the new job is the long shifts. I switch weekly between working 11-hour days for four days, then 12-hour days for three days. It’s nice because we get an extra day off during the short weeks, but the 12-hour work days feel like they go on forever. I had previously worked a job where I regularly pulled nine-hour days, but this was new to me.
Lonza’s Portsmouth plant manufactures biopharmaceutical products. Recently, it partnered with Moderna to work on the production of the Covid-19 vaccine. I learned a lot about how the entire facility works to send out medications that make people’s lives better.
My department is quality control, where we test for contamination of a product at many points along the production line. This is done mainly through membrane filtration bioburden, total organic carbon (TOC), and endotoxin testing. These test procedures are routine biopharmaceutical production procedures. Bioburden tests are completed to determine the microbial count in a sample by filtering the sample through a membrane, then plating the membrane onto an agar plate and incubating to grow any microorganisms caught on the filter. Total organic compound tests for the amount of carbon bound in organic compounds. This is used as an indicator of water quality or cleanliness of pharmaceutical manufacturing equipment. Endotoxin tests for the concentration of heat-stable toxins found in the outer membrane in bacteria, which can severely affect people if injected.
My prior knowledge from PSU microbiology and biology courses gave me a lot of background information to better understand the principles behind the routine testing completed at Lonza. Watching and learning these tests will be extremely helpful in my career, as they are giving me a learning experience I would have never had if not for this internship. Along with the knowledge of testing procedures and why they are completed I learned physical skills such as aseptic technique, so I can test the sample without introducing any contaminates from me.
A lot of the tasks that I perform in the lab are to help support the main team that works QC micro. I help restock lab supplies such as gloves, sleeves, or pipet tips. Also, I tally lab supplies to keep track of what needs to be ordered. To keep algae from growing in microbiology’s incubator cabinets, I weekly fill beakers with algae retardant. To clean lab equipment, I put sleeves of used equipment into an autoclave to sterilize for the next use.
The biggest takeaway from my internship at Lonza would be learning current good manufacturing practices (GMP), which are a must in all facilities that are monitored by the FDA and are used around the globe. Following regulations ensures that the quality and safety of products are maintained. Practicing this throughout my internship whenever I document an action in the logbook was terrific experience, since it’s a necessary skill for the industry workspace.
Natalie Hafez ’21 is majoring in cellular and molecular biology and minoring in chemistry. In her free time she likes to go to the beach and spend time with her pets.
Main photo copyright: Lonza Ltd.