2011-now University of Leicester. 2010-2011 Imperial College London. 2006-2009 University of Nottinghmam. 2001-2006 Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar School
MRes Cancer Biology, BSc Biochemistry & Genetics, 3 A-levels, 11 GCSEs
I’ve done all sorts! I’ve worked in restaurants, bars, nightclubs and clothes shops. I’ve even done a bit of festival work at Glastonbury. I have done a lot of volunteer work with children and vulnerable people in the UK and abroad.
I’m currently a PhD student. It’s great because I get to study and get paid at the same time!
University of Leicester/Medical Research Council
Favourite thing to do in my job: I really like working with genetic material; DNA, RNA, cDNA. All the NAs really! You have to be very precise and ensure you keep all your samples pure and clean.
I look at cancer cells at a molecular level to understand why cancer spreads; a very big problem for cancer patients.
Cancer spreading around the rest of the body, metastasis, is increasingly causing problems in the treatment of cancer. If a patient’s cancer spreads the probability of the patient surviving becomes very low.
We believe cancer cells spread through a process called ‘epithelial-mesenchymal transition’ (EMT). A bit of a mouthful, but it means the cell undergoes a change in shape becomes more mobile and can start moving around.
Epithelial cells are rigid and uniformly stuck to the cell next to them, during EMT cells loosen and wriggle out and travel to other places.
This process is perfectly normal and happens during the development of a foetus as well as when your body repairs itself after injury. However, this process is hijacked by cancer cells and they go and cause all sorts of problems!
Understanding why cancer spreads will aid scientists, doctors and other medical professions in coming up with new drugs and treatments.
My Typical Day
I carry out experiments on my cancer cells and then analyse them!
Usually first thing I have a look at my cancer cells to see how they’re growing. If they’re ready I will carry out different types of experiments with them; such as treating them with drugs to see how they react. Depending on which section of my project I want to look at analyse the genetic material or the proteins in my samples.
In tissue culture is where we take care of all our cells. Cells are cultured in sterile flasks containing media which contains all the food and nutrients for the cells to grow. These are then put in a humid incubator at 37 degrees. This is the perfect environment for our cells to grow; however, this is also perfect for nasty things we don’t want, like bacteria and fungi!
So it is very important that everything you use is sterile, so we do our tissue work in a tissue hood, this protects our cells from anything nasty flying around the air. We have something us cell biologists call the dreaded “CONTAMINATION”, where we have something unwanted growing with our cells. If there is a contamination, it is all hands on deck and we more completely clear out and clean the tissue culture room.
Here is some immunofluorescence work carried out with some of the cells I work with. Here I dye my proteins of interest with a certain colour, and when I look at the cells under the microscope with different light filters I see my cells light up in different colours. Each colour is for a certain protein, the brighter the colour the more protein is in my cell.
During a SDS-PAGE, I load my samples into a gel and apply an electrical current to it to separate my proteins out by size; the largest being stuck at the top because they are too big to travel. The smallest proteins travel the furthest.
Imagine proteins are balls of different sizes and weights. When I apply electricity to the proteins it is like I force all these balls through a gel.
The smallest balls will be able to whiz past through all the other balls quite easily but the big ones will travel only a little bit before getting stuck.
Now that I have a gel with my separated proteins I need to transfer this so I can analyse my data. This is done by ‘western blotting’; this is again applying another electrical current a paper/gel/membrane paper sandwich. This process simply stamps my protein from my gel onto my special membrane paper. I then use antibodies, which specifically bind to my protein of interest. I apply another chemical called ECL, this binds to the antibodies which are stuck to my protein. The ECL meets my antibodies and they have a little chemical reaction and cause a very small amount light to be released!
(Great I hear you say, now what?)
I now need to put my membrane paper with my protein on into a light-free cassette and go down to the darkroom. The darkroom has an X-ray developing machine.
In the dark lit by only a red light, I apply a piece of x-ray film to my membrane. The light coming out of my paper will bleach the X-ray film such that when I put it through the machine, areas where the light has touched will be black. The more protein present the big and darker the band will be, and if there is no protein there will be no light and therefore no band!
There are several people within my lab, it’s quite nice as we have a lot of fun together and although we’re working on different projects we can share advice and help each other with our experiments.
What I'd do with the prize money
I would donate the money to my local STEMnet.
STEMNET is a government funded body. Their main aim is to create opportunities to inspire young people in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
I’m a great believer that everyone should learn science, and not just because it’s cool!
I’ve decided I want to donate money to them because as with many government funded projects a lot of them are having their funding taken away. I hope the £500 will enable STEMnet to continue the great work their doing and encourage more young people to study science!