The questions that I am getting are great! Hope you are all learning as much as I am!
Favourite Thing: My favourite thing to do in science is doing experiments! I love being able to use creativity to learn how things (i.e. molecules and proteins) that we can’t see with the human eye work to make our bodies function.
2002-2007: Egerton Park Arts College; 2007-2009: Audenshaw Sixth Form College; 2009-2013: University of Manchester; 2013 to present: University of Edinburgh
BSc Medical Biochemistry with Industrial Experience
Whilst I was doing my undergrad, I worked as a student ambassador, working in widening participation to encourage less advantaged students to apply to university. I also did a LOT of tours for prospective students and helped to all sorts of events on campus. I took a year out to work at a scientist at the Mayo Clinic in Florida, doing research in brain tumours.
I am a PhD student looking at the ways our cells go into senescence and how this prevents tumour formation.
University of Edinburgh
Me and my work
I use an automated microscope to help us find proteins which defend our body against cancer.
Have you ever wondered why and how we get cancer? I did, and I found out that there is actually a lot more we need to learn before we find a cure. My PhD research looks at understanding our bodies natural defence against cancer – senescence.
All living things are made up of cells, the building blocks of life. Healthy cells will copy and divide over time to allow for growth, development and repair of our tissues and organs. The activity of the cells is controlled by our genetic code written into our DNA. This code is the instructions to create the proteins that make up the cells. Sometimes, the DNA in our cells can become damaged, for example by too much sun exposure, and change the instructions so that a faulty protein will be made. This faulty protein may either be permanently ‘switched on’ or ‘switched off.’ If a protein that usually make the cells divide is permanently switched on, then the cells will keep dividing even when they don’t need to be, leading to a a lump of cells, known as tumour. The same thing would happen if a protein that usually causes the cells to stop dividing, is permanently switched off.
However, our cells are a little cleverer than this. Often, the cells will realised before it’s too late that something has gone wrong and put the brakes on. This brake is called senescence. Senescence is the of the state of the cell when it is no longer able to divide, but it is still alive and has some activities. A senescent cell can still react to its environment, by making all of the cells around it senescent too. This can stop a tumour from forming. So, we think that it must be when the DNA gets even more damaged during senescence, that the cells wake up and start dividing like crazy to form a tumour.
Turns out, there isn’t actually much known about how the cells actually go into senescence and what makes them come out it and turn into cancer cells. In biology, if you want to know want to know what a protein does in a cell, the best way to find out is to take it away from the cell and see how the cell reacts. So, I used thousands of chemicals called siRNA which can delete proteins from senescent cell and used an automated microscope to see if getting rid of the proteins made the senescent cells start dividing again. If they did start dividing, then it means that that protein is important for the cells to stay senescent. I am now doing experiments with these important proteins to work out how they cause senescence. If we can work this out, maybe we could use the protein in a drug that can keep potential cancer cells senescent.
This is the automated microscope that takes all the pictures for me and can count all the cells too!
My Typical Day
Growing cells, treating cells and looking at their DNA and protein in the lab
I usually plan my experiments in advance so when I come into the lab in the morning, I check my calendar which tells me what I am going to do today. In the morning, I generally tend to do ‘bench work.’ This is where I can be extracting DNA from bacteria or RNA or protein from human cells. I might also be staining cells so that we can see them under the microscope and identify which proteins they express. Sometime we have seminars at around lunch time where a scientist from different parts of the country or even from around the world come and talk to us about their research. In the afternoon, I usually do cell culture. Taking care of cells can be like taking care of a baby; I have to feed them, change them, keep them warm, put them to sleep, freeze them, give them antibiotics… most importantly though, manipulating them so I can get answers to the all important research questions. I tend to finish the day by making notes of what I’ve done so that I don’t forget!
Here are picture of my cells. Senescent cells turn blue when you add a particular chemical to them.
This is Lenny. He helps me when I have a lot a plates with 96 wells to work with.
What I'd do with the money
After school science club
After-school sports and musical instruments classes seem to be the norm in almost every school.
What’s to say science can’t be just as fun?
I would like to use the money to set up after school science sessions, with just the fun stuff – experiments!
My idea is to try and bring as much of a real lab experience to schools. There are lots of rules and regulations regarding toxic/harzardous substances being used in the real labs, but with a little imagination I think we can use regular household objects to mimic the experiments a real scientist does.
I would also like to create videos/ youtube channel showcasing science experiments you can do at home.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Crazy, Funny, Surprising
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Live in Florida for a whole year
What did you want to be after you left school?
A doctor or a researcher (I wish I’d known at the time that it is possible to do both)
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Very occasionally, most often for talking when I’m not supposed to!
What was your favourite subject at school?
Biology and Textiles
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Inspired other children and people to become a scientist
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
When I realised that doctors can’t cure everything, I wanted to do research in order to find the answers.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
I would probably be a doctor, who also does research, or I would be a TV presenter
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I wish I had enough money to always be able to what I want when I want (I’m sure if money was no object, we would have cured cancer long ago!). I wish there were more hours in the day. I wish I could travel the world.
Tell us a joke.
What did the policeman say to his belly? You’re under a vest!
This is me doing bench work. I am getting the RNA out of the cells.
[my image5] this is my desk and the board of all sorts of things next to me!