Unwashed Lab Coat as New Drug Source?

Graduate Division

The lab coat is a ubiquitous and essential element in every lab for the purposes of lab safety, and in the case of poorly insulated San Francisco buildings, a source of warmth for poor graduate students.

A large number of disruptions in the global supply chain, shipping issues, as well as travel restrictions have resulted in us being unable to access most of our usual screening libraries for drug discovery.

This has led us to look inward and become creative with our current resources at hand.

A drug screening library involves a large number of structurally diverse compounds to be screened in a high throughput fashion against a particular target.

Despite its exposure to a large number of experiments and thus chemicals and biological agents, however, the unwashed lab coat has yet to be explored as a source for new drug hits.

In this study, we hence propose the unwashed lab coat as a promising source to screen for new drug hits.

Through our survey of 127 UCSF researchers, we found that 62% of them wore lab coats most of the time when doing experiments, 20% only if the experiment was BSL 2, and the other 18% only during safety inspections or when mandated by higher authorities.

We also discovered that the mean interval of a lab coat being used between washings was 5.2 years, with a sd of +/- 1.73 years, the average amount of time it takes for a graduate student to complete their dissertation in some UCSF programs.

The longest a lab coat was not washed was a whopping 15.3 years, belonging to a researcher who formerly worked at UCSF but whose lab coat was still being passed down from one graduate student researcher to another.

The reasoning for the long duration was based on the practice that most personnel washed their lab coats once when they joined a lab, and then only when they next remembered, which was usually never.

Another interesting finding was that despite UCSF PPE issuing personal lab coats to individuals, multiple researchers reported sharing lab coats.

In the words of one student, “By hanging my lab coat in the middle of the lab, it unintentionally became the default lab coat for all rotation students, visitors, collaborators and pretty much anyone looking for a lab coat even though I never agreed to share.”

We further found that the donning of lab coats was not confined to one area, but that a good 33% of researchers wore them across different labs and facilities and coffee shops.

A diversity of different experiments, ranging from small molecule screens to mouse dissections were also carried out in these lab coats, giving us a huge promise of a diversity of compounds.

There was a slight preference (52.3% of respondents) for the blue fireproof lab coat as that gave better warmth and looked much cooler compared to the water proof white lab coat.

Most respondents however, stated that they had no preference and usually grabbed whatever was closest to them, never mind the fitting.

Based on our survey, we then identified lab coats that were promising as sources for screening libraries based on the criteria that at least 3 different types of experiments had been done with them, were unwashed for at least 6 months, and had the visible presence of a neck ring around the collar.

After, we randomly selected a couple of labs whom we contacted and consented to let us study their lab coats on the pretext that we would also wash and return them within 3 days.

Negative controls were brand new lab coats from UCSF PPE, as well as lab coats worn solely by principal investigators for photoshoot purposes only.

As these lab coats were still in use, we opted for the gentlest form of extraction using dihydrogen monoxide in a front-loaded washing machine (Home Depot, USA) with normal wash at room temperature (tap water setting) for 2 hours.

To ensure maximum yield, the turbo spin setting was used to extract as much of the solvent as possible. Detergent was not used as this was not compatible with LC-MS/MS analysis.

Water from the washing machine was collected and samples dried in a speed vacuum before being reconstituted in mobile phase solvent methanol with 0.1% formic acid, for untargeted metabolomics.

After subtracting features present in our negative controls, we were left with 564134 distinct and identifiable features, showing good promise of lab coats as a good resource to tap on for drug discovery.

Amongst the diversity of features, the most abundant compound was 1,3,7-Trimethylpurine-2,6-dione, which was unsurprising, as that was a commonly used reagent in many labs as a stimulant.

We abandoned further analysis for now as our lead researcher insists on doing analysis in Excel, which has crashed multiple times on us.

In conclusion, thanks to the many researchers who generally do not have the time to wash their lab coats, we have been able to establish the unwashed lab coat as a new source for getting a library of compounds for drug discovery.

Further work profiling the trillions of microorganisms on these lab coats will also be carried out and activity screens against cancer signaling pathways will also be conducted. The cure for cancer might just be found in a graduate student’s lab coat.

Study caveats

33% of all statistics are made up. So is this statistic. Believing any of this work published in the Journal of Synapse under the humor section is akin to believing eating in-n-out 3 times a day is beneficial for your health.