in Moscow!! Sorry for chat absence; I will try to find some time for questions. Yay, holiday!!
Favourite Thing: Getting an interesting result. Not necessarily the result you ‘expected’, but something that makes you think. Something that opens up possibilities and new avenues, or goes some way to explaining other results/backing up your pet hypothesis.
Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar School 1997-2004
University of Nottingham, 2004-2007
TK Maxx! 2002-2004 (ish)
Cancer Research UK, Queen Mary University
Me and my work
I’m a PhD student living in central London and working in a cancer research lab!
I am enrolled in a training programme jointly run by Cancer Research UK, Queen Mary University of London and Cambridge University.
The first year of this course involved working in three laboratories; I chose two in London and one in Cambridge. The labs had different research focuses; the first was in the Molecular Oncology department, which means they are interested in the smaller elements of cells (mainly genes and proteins) and their roles in cancer cells. In this lab I worked on a protein of as yet unknown function to see if it might have importance in Breast Cancer cells (where it was identified by a previous PhD student).
In Cambridge I worked in a lab run by a clinician scientist (a medical doctor who works both in the hospital, with patients, and also runs a research lab) that focussed on oesophageal cancer; cancer of the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach, which has become much more common in the last 20 years for reasons we are currently not sure of. I was helping to establish a PhD project by checking for deleted genes in cancer samples and also researching the functions of the genes in these regions using computer databases (called Bioinformatics).
The third project in London has led to my current PhD project. Our lab is called the Adhesion and Angiogenesis laboratory; adhesion means how cells stick to each other and the surrounding areas. Angiogenesis is the growth of new blood vessels from pre-existing ones, and this is important because tumours (that is, not blood cancers but solid tumour growths) need to grow blood vessels in order to get bigger. Tumour cells, like all other cells, need food and oxygen to grow. They also need to get rid of waste products (like carbon dioxide) to prevent death from toxicity; a bit like the roles of the fuel line and exhaust pipe on cars.
I work on a mouse model of Down’s Syndrome, because people noticed that individuals with Down’s Syndrome don’t seem to get as many solid tumours as we expect. We thought this could be because, when they do have a tumour, maybe it doesn’t grow blood vessels very well, and we’ve found this to be true. So now we want to find out which genes are causing this; Down’s Syndrome people have a whole extra chromosome, as do our mice, so we are looking at the genes on this chromosome to see if we could use this information to help everyone with cancer – through finding out more about how tumours grow blood vessels and therefore how we could effectively stop them. People started targeting tumour blood vessels in the 90s – it is a useful strategy to reduce tumour re-growth after surgical treatment and we hope that by improving our understanding of the process, we can design better drugs with fewer side-effects to help people recover from cancer.
– Our paper, very exciting!!
My Typical Day
Check for ‘important’ emails, head to the lab, set up experiments for the day, lunch, meetings, finish lab work, do some computer work and/or reading, go home!
I am lucky to live close enough to work that I can walk; I don’t have to get the tube every day! So I can get to work fairly early (for a student, this means before 9:30) and have breakfast in our coffee room. I have some tea to wake up a bit – lots of people drink coffee but I don’t like it and people usually ask me if I want coffee about 20 times before they remember this.
We grow cells in the lab – called culturing. In our group we culture cells from mice, cells that make up the tiny blood vessels. We get them from the lungs because the lungs have the most of these vessels in a small space (for getting oxygen from the atmosphere into the blood). We need to check them regularly and look after them to keep them happily growing, until we want to use them in an experiment. So we spend a lot of time in ’tissue culture’ rooms, where our cells are kept warm in incubators and we have special cabinets with air flow that stops bacteria from getting in and contaminating them.
In our group we also need to look after our mice; for example, seeing if they have the genes we want, which involves extracting some DNA and doing Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) – something that’s used a lot by forensic scientists to identify people at crime scenes, but you can use it to look at any aspect of a DNA sequence from any organism!
– making a gel to run PCRs. A very frequent task!
We have speakers come to the institute to tell us about their work. It’s important for us to hear their talks so that we can see what’s going on in other areas of biological science (and also sometimes chemistry/physics). Sometimes the talks are from our colleagues so we go to suppor them and learn more details of their projects.
I do quite a lot of work using the internet to find out about genes and proteins from freely-available databases set up by other labs and apply this to our own research; this can help us to understand results we have or to decide what kind of experiments to do next.
We also do lots of reading and writing; we write research papers to send to journals so that our results are available to the scientific community, and grants applications to charities and councils that might be able to give us money to help keep our lab going. To keep up with the field we need also need to read about new research. The grants and papers need figures – pictures to illustrate our results clearly in a small space. Here computer skills are also useful as it can take a lot of time to make good figures.
So my day consists of a mixture of lab and computer-based work, interspersed with breaks when I talk with my colleagues (whom I love!*) and relax a bit. When I go home I like to listen to and/or play music, maybe watch a little bit of TV, catch up with my friends online and write my blog.
*Sometimes companies send fun things with their research products. I coloured in this sheep and presented it to my colleague, who proceeded to write other things on it and return it to me. We like to play (mild) jokes on each other when we can!
What I'd do with the money
Try to reach a wider audience with increasingly professional science communication activity online
I’m hoping to get into science writing; whether as a primary career or at the same time as the job I do after I become Dr Baker, I don’t know yet!
I’ve re-started my blog as a way of sharing interesting information I come across (in the form of lectures, articles, TV programmes, thoughts from my own strange little world – generally anything) and have so far had very positive comments and a good number of views each week.
I’d like to make it a bit more professional in time. If I had a small laptop or dictaphone/better video camera I could share more information (I type at a speed approaching that of light).
I will alse be writing for the Cancer Research UK blog. I think this is a productive way to use my expertise as cancer is often a very preventable illness (heritable forms aside); if people are armed with knowledge and the ability to think critically, ask the right questions and make sensible decisions, we can live happier, healthier lives.
For about a year now I have been involved with Sense About Science and Voice of Young Science – charitable organisations that help the general public communicate with scientists to address dangerous or simply false information that’s out there.
So with this money I’d like to invest in equipment that would help me to set up and maintain science resources online and attend more science communication and education events outside London.
Honestly (and I don’t mean to sound like a massive cliché here) I was very surprised to be selected and didn’t even realise there was a cash prize until we got the acceptance emails! I think this will be a fun (and hopefully educational!) experience so may steal people’s ideas and am open to suggestions…
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Sociable, honest, pedantic
Who is your favourite singer or band?
The Levellers/Kasabian/Keane/REM – really can’t decide, like a *lot* of music.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Jogging/trudging up a big hill in Holyrood Park (Edinburgh) in the snow by myself at new year and surveying the landscape!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Be happy, have my own house, travel more
What did you want to be after you left school?
Wasn’t sure! Something sciencey
Were you ever in trouble at school?
No, I wasn’t a troublemaker, plenty of other people did that for me.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Being an author on a Nature paper from our lab (out 10th June!) [myimage2]
Tell us a joke.
What did the fish say when it bumped into a wall? … … … Dam!