• Question: Why is your work in science so important to you?

    Asked by bear01 on 27 Jun 2019.
    • Photo: Nina Rzechorzek

      Nina Rzechorzek answered on 27 Jun 2019: last edited 27 Jun 2019 12:04 am

      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!
      Currently I work in the O’Neill Lab, 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 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?
      On a personal note, my natural chronotype without an alarm clock is very late (I’m a very ‘late night owl’) – I have always been like this – I want to understand why, and whether I can change it so I can be more awake during the day!

    • Photo: Marianne King

      Marianne King answered on 27 Jun 2019:

      I’d wanted to specifically study brain diseases after my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease when I was 11. Lots of brain diseases still have no cures or even treatments available, and they can be so devastating for the patient and everyone who loves them. Being part of research that might help find treatments one day is what keeps me working hard even when things are going wrong and I want to give up!

    • Photo: David Wilson

      David Wilson answered on 27 Jun 2019:

      In the UK, the number of new cases of Liver cancer has rapidly increased since 1979 in both men and women. At it’s current rate it will become the most common type of Cancer in the UK within the next 5 years.
      My current work will contribute to finding and developing new treatments for Liver disease and Liver Cancer.

    • Photo: Matthew Bareford

      Matthew Bareford answered on 27 Jun 2019:

      My work is science is important to me because Mental Health affects so many people, not just across the UK but also around the world. I know people with mental health issues and even have family members with them.

      With this in mind, it is something that I feel is important, and so an area which I would like to contribute too 😊

    • Photo: Shobhana Nagraj

      Shobhana Nagraj answered on 27 Jun 2019:

      I worked as a doctor in rural India and in Malawi, Africa, and saw first hand the problems facing women and babies living in rural areas and in particular people without the means or knowledge to seek help and go to hospital. As a doctor, I felt helpless as there was very little I could do without any equipment, to help people who needed medical care. What I did notice was village healthcare workers were brilliant at educating and helping women in their communities, but they needed more support and supervision to diagnose medical emergencies.

      In the Himalayan areas, the village healthcare workers used to carry patient notes – which were very heavy – on their backs, and visit remote villages in the mountains. I noticed that all the healthcare workers – even in these remote areas, had mobile phones and thought about how we might use mobile technologies to support healthcare workers. My work is really important to me because I think it might have a really positive impact on the health of the women and children in rural India and also strengthen the health system and improve motivation and support of rural healthcare workers.

    • Photo: Thiloka Ratnaike

      Thiloka Ratnaike answered on 27 Jun 2019:

      My work into mitochondrial disease research is important to me because I had a cousin who died from a mitochondrial disease. It isn’t well known about in Sri Lanka, and at the time she was diagnosed and continued to deteriorate- none of us in the family really had any understanding about it or what to expect. I want to improve both my understanding about the diseases that are caused by mitochondrial defects, and share that knowledge with communities like those in Sri Lanka where there will be a lot of undiagnosed people because there isn’t such a focus on rare disease research like there is here in the UK! Another aspect of the work is to continue to improve our diagnostic rates here and provide real tailored prognostic information to the patients and their families- it would make a world of difference if someone was able to tell you what to expect from a condition that not a lot of people have even heard about!

    • Photo: Matthew Burgess

      Matthew Burgess answered on 27 Jun 2019:

      Working in science is something I find very fulfilling. I enjoy the process of testing questions, designing experiments and analysing the data. I did learn very early on that aside from the need to justify that work to a human need to get funding, that most people need to have a clear human benefit to help keep you going during the difficult times.

      When I visited China for a joint science conference we had one afternoon where we visited the children’s hospital. To see all the hardship that many of the children were going through on the respiratory wards reinforced why it’s important that the work we do can be applicable to finding better treatments or cures for children with asthma or bronchiolitis for example.

    • Photo: Deepak Chandrasekharan

      Deepak Chandrasekharan answered on 27 Jun 2019:

      I see lots of people with problems of the ear, nose and throat and sometimes the treatments we have don’t help as much as we’d like to. I want to try help discover better ways to help these people with the science that I do!

    • Photo: Lorena Boquete Vilarino

      Lorena Boquete Vilarino answered on 28 Jun 2019:

      To me particularly, my work in science is something stimulating that I take great pride in. It is a very important part of my life now!
      In terms of importance in general, my work will hopefully helps us understand how we can fight cancer better using our own immune system. Lots of research groups are working on this at the moment, and I hope that my work will contribute to at some point improving the type of treatment we use for cancer.