• Question: What is one of the most interesting things you have learnt during your studies?

    Asked by matthewf74 on 5 Jun 2019. This question was also asked by katalina.
    • Photo: Nina Rzechorzek

      Nina Rzechorzek answered on 5 Jun 2019:

      That a ‘molecular clock’ exists in every cell in the body (including cells of the brain), and that even if you take cells out of the body and culture them in a dish the lab without any external timing cues, their ‘clock’ will still cycle with a frequency of around 24 h. We’re still not exactly sure how this works, but we know it’s very important to cellular health, and ultimately, the health of the organ (and organism) those cells came from.

    • Photo: Ross Hill

      Ross Hill answered on 5 Jun 2019:

      My work has helped explain why human patients with a rare genetic disease called Fanconi Anaemi are infertile (unable to have children).

      Briefly: This is because the specialized cells that go onto make sperm in men or eggs in women die.

    • Photo: Rebecca Moon

      Rebecca Moon answered on 5 Jun 2019:

      A lot of my research has focused on vitamin D, which is really important for maintaining calcium in your bones. Mostly we obtain vitamin d from the action of sunlight on our skin, but we get some from our diet too. I’ve been trying to determine why during pregnancy some women have higher vitamin d levels that others. We identified lots of factors including how much weight they gain, whether they took supplementation or not and really interestingly what genes they carry that control enzymes in the pathway that makes and uses vitamin D. We are moving into an era of personalised medicine where our genetic make up will determine what medicines we take and how much so this is a really interesting finding that might contribute to working out how much vitamin d each woman should take when pregnant. I find it fascinating.

    • Photo: Shobhana Nagraj

      Shobhana Nagraj answered on 5 Jun 2019:

      The most interesting thing I have learnt is that you can have some ideas of what might be important or work to solve a particular problem, but it is really important that any scientific research is driven by the needs of patients we are working with, and that I need to be flexible in my thinking. I think it is really important that we involve patients in the research we do, and make the research meaningful to them, as well as answering the questions we have as researchers. For me, this has involved having the humility to repeatedly question myself and challenge my assumptions, and re-think the research I’m doing at times. I have done this by working in partnership with the people I am trying to help, using a participatory approach to designing and implementing scientific research.

    • Photo: Marianne King

      Marianne King answered on 6 Jun 2019:

      For so long I was only taught about the role neurons play in brain disease so when I had a lecture in my 3rd year that these other cells called astrocytes (beautiful star-shaped cells that support neurons in all kinds of ways) played a huge role too, I was quite excited. I’d only ever heard of them once prior to this and that lecture has dictated every single research project I’ve done since. Maybe it’s a British underdog kind of thing, but I love learning about these underrated cells!

    • Photo: Kate Timms

      Kate Timms answered on 6 Jun 2019:

      One of the most interesting things I have learned is that the environment you are surrounded by in your mother’s womb affects you lifelong health. For instance, if your mother smoked, had diabetes or didn’t have the right nutrition during pregnancy, all of these things could affect your health. It especially increases your risk of developing diabetes, obesity and heart disease. We call this the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease.
      By treating these problems and making the environment in the womb better, we might be able to reduce the number of people who develop diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Not only would that make the population healthier, it would also significantly reduce the pressure on the NHS!

    • Photo: Alex Blenkinsop

      Alex Blenkinsop answered on 6 Jun 2019:

      I have discovered how we can essentially halve the time and number of patients needed to test lots of new therapies in patients with cancer to find one which works. It’s actually very complicated planning a trial because you have to be really careful you:
      – Have enough patients to be sure of your conclusions at the end
      – Be confident patients have not being doing really well on a specific drug just by chance (we wouldn’t want to license a drug for use on the NHS to later find out it is harmful)
      – Know all the side effects
      It’s a very satisfying feeling when you do the analysis for a trial and find that something you’ve been studying for many years is actually saving lives!

    • Photo: Kaitlin Wade

      Kaitlin Wade answered on 7 Jun 2019:

      I pretty much learn something new every day that excites me. The *most* interesting thing that I’ve learnt during my studies is probably that you can use genetics to help predict whether someone may or may not be at risk of becoming obese from an early age (even as early as 4!). This might help us identify people who are at risk in later life so that we can maybe reduce their risk by (1) identifying them and (2) improving their health from a young age to potentially stop them from becoming obese later in life.

    • Photo: Rachel Hardy

      Rachel Hardy answered on 7 Jun 2019:

      I love the fact that we constantly learn new things in scientific research. In my PhD so far, I have identified a new group of drugs that damage mitochondrial function in brain cells. This will be an important new safety consideration in patients taking these drugs (especially more vulnerable groups of patients such as the elderly). By finding out which part of the drug structure binds to mitochondria, I may also help to influence the design of safer drugs in the future. If chemists know certain chemical structures that are known to bind to and damage mitochondria, these could potentially be avoided when making new drugs 🙂

    • Photo: Thiloka Ratnaike

      Thiloka Ratnaike answered on 9 Jun 2019:

      Recently I have learnt that we all have signatures that tell us where our ancestors on the maternal side originated from, within our mitochondrial DNA (the other tinier DNA molecule that exists in numerous copies in our cells alongside the 1 nuclear DNA). A colleague in my lab has recently published about the interesting finding that now it seems that the nuclear DNA does seem to have an influence on this mitochondrial DNA signature too (see: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/364/6442/eaau6520).

    • Photo: David Wilson

      David Wilson answered on 11 Jun 2019: last edited 11 Jun 2019 10:24 am

      Science is always evolving and changing everyday. Epigenetics was a word first coined in the 1940’s and has been growing since the 1970’s. When I was at University it wasn’t something I was taught, in fact between 2000 and 2010 the number of articles on Web of Knowledge, an online database, that use the word epigenetics has gone from 100 to 1300!!!!!!
      Epigenetics is about studying inherited phenotypes, these are things you get from your parents and grandparents like eye colour, hair type or height. Importantly, epigenetics looks at why these things vary but your DNA stays the same.
      In the past Epigenetics has been really difficult for me to understand but I recently spent some time reading about it and chatting to other scientists with questions I had. It’s still a really complicated area of science but I have a better understanding of it now. I might not do any epigenetic work but it’s still really useful to me to be able to apply what I do know to any new research i might do.
      It’s also a really good reminder that we’re still always learning new things.

    • Photo: Matthew Bareford

      Matthew Bareford answered on 20 Jun 2019:

      That the human brain is constantly rewiring itself!! it never stops and this is why for some conditions you can remove parts of the brain and a person can still function relatively normally. The brain will adapt and rewire as much as it can in order to work still!!