Growth hormones and variations

by YPU Admin on February 28, 2014. Tags: biology, PhD, and Research


I’m Lee Dunham, and I’m currently in the third year of my PhD research in Biomedical Science. After completing my GCSEs (many moons ago!), I went to college to study Biology, Psychology, Sport Science (A-levels) and Maths and Chemistry (AS-levels). At the time I thought I wanted to do Medicine, but changed my mind to continue into research. I got a place studying a straight Biology degree at Cardiff University. Throughout the course, I went on field courses to Tobago, and worked for a leading pharmaceutical company (AstraZeneca) and contributed to a published study. Upon graduating from Cardiff University, I started on my PhD research at the University of Manchester. My work here focusses on understanding how growth hormone, present in all humans, is regulated and how changes may contribute to differences seen between individuals.

In Depth

Why does it matter that we understand the differences? Whilst “variation is the spice of life”, we like these variations to be within a ‘normal limit’. Growth hormone (as the name suggests) controls growth and development in all mammals, and is the main cause for the variation in our heights and sizes. Some people make more of it, and others make less…

Sometimes however, the regulation fails from keeping growth hormone at a ‘normal’ level, and unfortunately this can result in disease. For example, misregulation may cause cancer, acromegaly and growth hormone deficiency. Whilst some of the characteristics of these are noticeable as being much taller or shorter, other more detrimental symptoms are also caused. These include joint pain, limited vision, headaches, increased fat mass, decreased bone density and even death.

I am aiming to identify the ‘normal’ patterns of the growth hormone gene. This gene in humans is unique to any other mammals as it has vital components allowing for stringent control. I look at single cells under a powerful microscope to observe these patterns. To make this possible, I have added a section into the growth hormone gene which makes it glow when it is present. That way, when growth hormone is being made in the cell it brightens up, and then goes dull when production stops. Each blob is a cell in a dish with my modified growth hormone gene in. Measuring the time, frequency and intensity of these events will allow me to identify ‘normal levels’ which can then be compared to different conditions.

Through both my Biology BSc and my PhD, I have learnt so many theoretical and practical skills within the laboratory. I regularly use high-tech microscopes, manipulate genes and apply a number of analytical tests. Working with some of the newest technology in a lab with people from different places and backgrounds to understand something nobody else yet knows is extremely rewarding, and I now have skills which can be transferred to many different research areas and jobs.

Going Further

Found out about studying Biology at the University of Manchester here.

For a link to the medical and human sciences page go here and you can find all the research done at University of Manchester.

And here you can find the research done specifically looking at human development.

For a great video which explains genetics and variation go here.

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