• Question: What will your discovery mean for the future of science?

    Asked by miitomo1penguin on 12 Jun 2019.
    • Photo: Rachel Hardy

      Rachel Hardy answered on 12 Jun 2019:

      I hope to find out why some drugs cause damage to mitochondria – essential structures inside cells that make most of the energy that the cell needs to survive. Mitochondria are particularly important in organs that need a lot of energy to work effectively, like the brain or heart. When a drug causes unexpected damage to mitochondria, this can damage cells/organs and lead to side-effects. If I can figure out what it is that causes some drugs to damage mitochondria, chemists will hopefully be able to design safer drugs in the future. This would lead to an improved quality of life for many patients.

    • Photo: Kaitlin Wade

      Kaitlin Wade answered on 12 Jun 2019:

      My work is centered around discovering the causes of different diseases. So, ultimately, if any of my discoveries are to help science they will be to identify and confirm the causal role of a particular thing on a disease. For example, of the pieces of work I was involved in recently was to confirm the role that obesity played in cancer, which has been taken up by lots of charities and policy.

    • Photo: Rebecca Moon

      Rebecca Moon answered on 12 Jun 2019:

      Great question as I its always important to have an idea of how your science if going to contribute to the bigger picture or be used clinically. My main area of research has been looking at ways of changing the in utero environment, for example by altering maternal diet or lifestyle, to improve the bone health and risk of obesity in the offspring. In particular we have been investigating the roles of vitamin D. We have conducted a huge study involving over 1000 pregnant women, half were randomly allocated to take vitamin D and the other half to a placebo (“dummy” tablet containing no active ingredient). We have studied the mothers throughout their pregnancy and their children at birth, and at 4 and 6-7 years of age, included detailed scans of the skeleton, measurements of the children’s size and muscle strength. Firstly we found the babies born in winter months to mums who received the vitamin D had more calcium in their skeleton at birth than the babies in the placebo group. This is a fascinating finding as we know that by increasing the amount of calcium and mineral in the bone, it can decrease the risk of fractures and osteoporosis (thining of the bones) in later life. We are still studying the children at 4 and 6-7 years but hope to see if this difference persists at those ages. We also looked at the way the mothers respond to the vitamin D supplement and how high the vitamin D level in their blood was, and found a number of maternal factors were related to this, including weight gain during pregnancy and a number of genetic markers – we are moving into an era of personalised medicine so these factors might be important in determining how much vitamin D an individual will need to maintain their blood vitamin D level. There is still a lot of work to be done on these topics but all these small discoveries fit into a massive jigsaw puzzle and I’m excited to see what becomes of it!

    • Photo: Nina Rzechorzek

      Nina Rzechorzek answered on 14 Jun 2019:

      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 using stem cells and I explored at the molecular level how cooling could protect them from injury. 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: David Wilson

      David Wilson answered on 14 Jun 2019:

      Hopefully my current work will give us some idea on how the liver repairs itself by using scar tissue to help this happen. Scar tissue is a fine balance of having enough to help repair happen properly but too much can impair proper function. This might be important in investigating how other organs get damaged and repair themselves.

    • Photo: Matthew Bareford

      Matthew Bareford answered on 20 Jun 2019:

      Who knows?? without discovering it yet, its hard to be sure for certain. If its what I’m currently researching, then hopefully it will mean a step forward in the treatment and diagnosis of mental health. But quite often we make other discoveries along the way too that can be just as impactful.