• Question: what do you study

    Asked by dean123 on 7 Jun 2019. This question was also asked by xxteganxx.
    • Photo: Lorena Boquete Vilarino

      Lorena Boquete Vilarino answered on 7 Jun 2019:

      At work, I am studying how our immune system (white blood cells) can detect cancer cells as being dangerous to us and how they can attack them.
      Cancer cells are different to our normal cells, they have different things on their surface which our immune system can see and react to them as they would react to bacteria, for example. However, cancer cells can hide from our immune system, which then “ignores” the cancer and lets it grow. I want to understand how we can stop this from happening and make cancer cells come out of their hiding place so our cells can find and fight them.
      Outside of work I am actually studying history, and more specifically how people made yarn, fabric and dresses in the middle ages. I like to keep my brain busy!

    • Photo: Rachel Hardy

      Rachel Hardy answered on 7 Jun 2019:

      I work with a variety of medicines that are used to treat mental health disorders. These include drugs to treat anxiety, depression or schizophrenia. Although these drugs can be effective at treating these diseases, they can also cause a number of nasty side-effects in patients that impact their day-to-day lives. For example, most schizophrenia medications can cause some patients to develop severe movement disorders. These are similar to Parkinsons disease. At the moment, scientists do not understand why these drugs cause some patients to develop movement disorders. The fact that we do not have any better treatments for the diseases mean that these medicines are still the best option for patients. So, I am studying these medicines, and trying to understand what they do in the brain that causes such severe side-effects. A lot of medicines are known to cause side-effects by accidentally damaging mitochondria in cells. These may be because a part of the drug chemical structure can bind to structures in the mitochondria (as well as the proteins they are supposed to bind in order to effectively treat the disease). Mitochondria have lots of important functions in a cell, a major one being to make energy. The brain needs a lot of energy (20% of all that made by the body). So, any drug that stops mitochondria working properly will cause brain cells to work less effectively (and cause a patient to experience side-effects in the process). My work involves testing if medicines of interest can damage mitochondria, and what part of the mitochondria they damage. I use human brain tumour cells, mouse brain cells and fruit flies to investigate this. I then try and figure out what part of the drug chemical structure allows it to bind to and damage mitochondria. If these chemical structures are used in lots of other drugs, I will let other scientists know that these should perhaps be avoided in the future when making new medicines (ultimately helping to make safer ones for the future :).

    • Photo: Kaitlin Wade

      Kaitlin Wade answered on 24 Jun 2019:

      I am currently studying how gut bacteria can be linked to diseases like type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases and other autoimmune diseases, and colorectal cancer. Also, how diet and nutritional variation can impact the gut microbiome. The reason being that, if we find particular configurations of gut bacteria that are detrimental to disease (or even protect us against disease) then we might be able to develop dietary interventions (or even things like pro- or pre-biotics) to help get a better configuration of gut bacteria within people at risk of a particular disease.

    • Photo: Nina Rzechorzek

      Nina Rzechorzek answered on 24 Jun 2019:

      Currently I work in the O’Neill Lab (https://www.oneilllab.com/lab-members.html), a super-fun group at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology that studies circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are (approximately) 24-hour cycles in biology observed across the three Domains of Life (Bacteria, Archaea and Eukaryota), and at every level-from cells to whole animal behaviour.
      In humans and other animals, circadian rhythms result from daily timing mechanisms in every cell that together function like a biological clock; allowing our physiology to anticipate and prepare for the differing demands of day and night. Normally our biological clock is fine-tuned each day by external cues, particularly the timing of meals, and light exposure. When we see bright light or eat at the wrong biological time (for example because of shift work, jet-lag, or staying up late to surf the net), it disrupts our biological clock and increases the risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and several brain disorders. It also has a huge impact on learning—you all know how tricky is to concentrate at school if you haven’t slept well! On the other hand, some drugs and surgeries are potentially more effective at certain times of the day. Understanding the molecular basis of cellular timekeeping is therefore critical to understanding health, and taking advantage of cellular clock mechanisms may provide new insights into the prevention and treatment of many diseases.
      During my PhD I learnt how make lots of different human brain cell types in a dish (https://twitter.com/Neurocool) using stem cells and I explored at the molecular level how cooling could protect them from injury (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOx_xrnieug). Now my research is focused on the mechanisms of daily timekeeping in brain cells, and in particular how brain cell clocks interact and deal with the temperature changes that occur naturally in the brain. A defining feature of circadian rhythms is that they run at the same speed across a range of physiological temperatures (it would be a disaster if your cellular clocks sped up every time you did some exercise, or slowed down when your body temperature drops during sleep). Remarkably though, cellular clocks are synchronized by daily changes in body temperature—so how is it that they sense and respond to these temperature changes whilst keeping the same rhythm? This is even more baffling for the brain, where regional temperature changes occur all the time with neuronal activity. Two key questions that I am trying to answer are:
      (1) How does the temperature of different brain regions vary by time of day?
      (2) How do brain cell clocks keep time in the face of these dynamic changes in brain temperature?
      For many brain disorders we have either poorly effective treatments, or no treatments at all—this is the case for both human and animal patients. By returning from the clinic to the lab, I hope to make discoveries that can lead to better and more specific treatments for brain disorders in my patients and also their human owners!

    • Photo: Matthew Bareford

      Matthew Bareford answered on 26 Jun 2019:

      I work in NCMH (National Centre for Mental Health). Thus I study different mental health conditions and illnesses. I look at the genetic information and any links and possible impacts these have on mental health, as well as working in Biomaterials and their use in mental health.