How did we get here?! A question not necessarily
linked to cellular biology, but the answer is essential for all life. How do
proteins (molecular machines) travel inside the cell? How can we help when it
goes wrong? Can we hijack these pathways to produce revolutionary new drugs? My name is
Katie Downes. I’m a second year PhD student at the University of Manchester and
my research aim is to answer those questions.
Inside the world of the cell,
proteins are powerful machines performing all sorts of crazy processes where space
and time are key. Knowing how they get to where they need to be is fundamental
to life as we know it, as exemplified by what happens when it goes wrong.
Diseases such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and blindness are linked to issues with
intracellular transport. Yet the relatively simple question of how did that get
there is still puzzling scientists. Imagine rush hour on the metro then add 20,000
proteins and you’re still not quite imagining how much is going on.
Research in this field is highly
applicable to a number of real-life scenarios. Biopharmaceuticals, biological
drugs produced in cells, are increasingly being used to target difficult
diseases such as cancer. Currently these therapies are super expensive, as
production yields are low and development costs high. By gaining a greater
understanding of what determines how a protein is produced provides a torch
light in the dark for these emerging therapies.
Day to day my research involves fiddling
with some high-tech microscopes, watching fluorescent proteins move around
inside the cell and performing a series of complex analyses to generate of
library of movement. This library can then be used to interrogate various
methods of intracellular transport and ultimately create a comprehensive map of
How did I get here?
secondary school I was determined STEM wasn’t for me. However, one particularly
inspirational teacher unlocked what was to become a lifelong passion for the
sciences. I went on to study Biological Sciences at Durham University, with a
focus on Cell Biology and Biochemistry. My lectures would frequently blow my
mind at how awesomely clever biochemical systems and proteins are – defined by
logic and simplicity.
As you can see, I am a true nerd.
However, it wasn’t just my wonderment which drew me to Biology. Through
studying Biology, I realised I could help people and make a difference. During
my industrial placement year, I worked in the Research and Development
Department for a biopharmaceutical company, producing therapeutic antibodies
for clinical trials. From then on, I became fascinated with biopharmaceuticals
and the concept that we can harness all of that awesome biochemistry I had
learnt during my undergraduate and use it to tackle serious diseases. I was
shocked to find how much fundamental cell biology is still unknown. It became
clear to me that if true progress was to be made in global health, more
research was required and I wanted to be part of it. After graduating I jumped
at the chance at a PhD.
The world of intracellular
transport is a fascinating place. So much is yet to be discovered. But I can
provide a little teaser for those who are interested!
Throughout school you are taught
that cells are a nice sphere, with a nucleus at the centre and a few other
important bits, called organelles, floating around. In reality cells are
densely packed environments where everything is in motion. In-fact there is a
skeleton of sorts, a cytoskeleton which supports the overall structure of the
cell – imagine scaffolding running throughout the cell. Some of this
scaffolding also acts as a road, providing a track for molecular motors. These
motors waddle along the tracks carrying various cargo. When “long-distance”
transport is required, these motors are employed to pick up and drop off their
cargo. But, how do they know when they are needed? How do they know what to
pick up and where to put down? How do they know what are carrying?
more information on studying Biological Sciences at Durham University or the
University of Manchester:
To learn more about the research that is
happening in my faculty:
Interested in intracellular transport?
Want to learn more about biopharmaceuticals?
My name is Jessica Traynor and I am a second year PhD
student at the University of Manchester. My research is based on producing a
localised drug delivery system for people suffering from endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a common gynaecological condition that affects roughly 10% of
women at reproductive age. Endometriosis occurs when lesions grow outside of
the uterus. These lesions can cause painful periods, pelvic pain and fatigue.
Although this disease is common, the treatment options are still limited. Women
are most likely to be given anti-inflammatory drugs, hormone-based therapies
(such as the pill or the coil) or undergo surgery to remove the lesions. These
treatment options are not ideal, especially surgery, as there is a high chance
the lesions will grow back.
My lab work is trying to find a way to deliver old and new
drugs directly onto the lesions. This will hopefully stop the lesions from
growing as well as reduce the side effects of these drugs!
My initial interest in pharmacology (the study of drugs)
began in sixth form. I knew that I was interested in science in general during
my GCSEs, so I picked biology, chemistry, physics and maths. I realised that
although Biology wasn’t my strongest subject, I found it the most interesting,
especially topics surrounding the human body and disease. I decided to look
into biomedical sciences for University, which I soon realised included a lot
of other topics, such as genetics, biochemistry and immunology. When I looked at
the list, I found pharmacology the most interesting subject as I wanted to
learn more about the production of drugs and treating diseases. I chose to
study pharmacology at Newcastle University.
In my final year at Newcastle I started my research project,
which was based on lithium action within the brain and how this can help treat
bipolar disorder. This made me realise that I loved the research environment; I
loved researching a topic where the answer was unknown.
Overall, my degree taught me a lot of research techniques
that can be brought into any research environment, of course, not all labs are
the same but University provided me with the confidence to learn and master
techniques that I’d never seen before!
I graduated from Newcastle in 2017 with a first class degree
in Pharmacology, and if I’m truly honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do
next! I knew I wanted to carry on in research, but I wasn’t certain on where or
on what topic. I spent the year researching PhD topics whilst working within an
NHS virology lab as a research assistant. I found this PhD online and thought
it was right up my street! Not only was it a PhD based on drug design/delivery
but it was also based around an under-researched disease that affects so many
women. I had a skype interview with the supervisors and then was put forward
My lab group consists of people from different backgrounds,
whether that is pharmacology, cancer research or pharmacy. We all work
alongside other groups to gain a better understanding of disease and its
treatment. We all use a variety of different techniques throughout our
research, so every day is different. Personally, I find my day is split between
lab work, writing papers/reviews, planning future studies and teaching!
After my PhD, I don’t have a set plan on what I want to do
next! My opinions may change throughout the years and I could learn new skills
that change my perception on what I want my career to be!
If you want to find out more about endometriosis and its
effects on women, the BBC have recently produced a popular article explaining
what endometriosis is and the idea of the ‘gender pain gap’ (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/stories-49925760/endometriosis-the-condition-that-can-take-over-seven-years-to-diagnose)
To learn more about the research that is happening in my
If you want more information about Biomedical
Sciences/Pharmacology you can find that here (https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2020/00532/bsc-biomedical-sciences/)
and here (https://www.prospects.ac.uk/careers-advice/what-can-i-do-with-my-degree/pharmacology)
Something that sparked my interest in the treatment of
disease was a podcast that talks about medical history, you can give it a
listen if you’re interested, too! (https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/research/)
Hi everyone! I’m Jess and I’m a PhD researcher at the Division of
Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology at the University of Manchester. I’m
in my second year of a 4-year biosocial PhD programme – a programme that
specialises in research in both biological and social sciences. My research
specifically looks at how social support affects mental health, whilst taking
into account different factors. Those factors include the structure and
function of the brain, wealth and education, and personality type.
I have always been interested in why people act, think and feel the way
they do, which is why I decided to study Psychology at university. We learned
about different areas of psychology, such as developmental, social and
cognitive psychology, but I had a strong interest in clinical and biological
psychology – mental health and the brain. Like many people who studied
psychology, at first I considered becoming a clinical psychologist, so I worked
for a mental health service provider for a couple of years after my degree.
However, I realised that my passion lies in research, so I went on to complete
my Master’s degree in Edinburgh and then (after a short detour of work and
travel in Japan) on to start my PhD in Manchester. I wanted to pursue a PhD in
order to become an expert in a research topic and to contribute to the body of
knowledge that has the potential to impact the lives of many people. This is
important in the field of mental health, as the majority of people in their
lifetime will struggle with their mental health, and we need to understand the
biological and social mechanisms behind this and the best way to help.
A bird's eye view of different sections of the brain from top to bottom from an MRI scan.
Currently, my day-to-day life is very varied. For my research, I am
conducting a systematic literature review, which involves trying to find all
the research there is on a particular topic and combining it all together.
Alongside this, I teach on the undergraduate Psychology course, deliver
workshops to schools and write my own blog about psychology and neuroscience
research. This is one of the parts I like most about doing a PhD; you have the
opportunity to get involved with different areas and build skills and
confidence outside of your niche research topic. After my PhD, I want to
continue to work in research, but I am also attracted to the idea of working in
policy and science communication. I want my work to have meaningful and
far-reaching consequences, which could be achieved by any of these career
paths. Luckily I have some time to think about it before I finish my PhD!
If you want to find out more about different aspects of psychology, check
out the links below:
Interested in studying Psychology? Here is the
website for Psychology at the University of Manchester, which gives more
information about the course and the requirements: https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2020/00653/bsc-psychology/
what you can do with a Psychology degree? The British Psychology Society (BPS)
has some careers information here: https://careers.bps.org.uk/
Keen to learn more about psychology and
neuroscience research? Check out my very own blog: https://brainsinaspace.home.blog/
or my own academic Twitter:https://twitter.com/JStepanous
learn more about your mental health? This website has videos and articles on
different topics: https://teenmentalhealth.org/learn/
about what the different parts of the brain are? You can download this free,
interactive app for your phone: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/3d-brain/id331399332
Hi there, my name is Leonie
Brinkmann. I am a German pharmacist and started my PhD at the University of
Manchester about two years ago. I work in the field of health economics. Health
economics is a branch of economics that tries to evaluate health care services
or new medications from an economic perspective without neglecting the value of
health. This combines a medical background knowledge, data analysis and
statistics. I myself, for example, focus on patient safety. Using big data sets of electronic health
records I try to identify specific patients with medication errors to see how
many of the medication errors lead to harm for the patient.
I am a pharmacist by background and
did my undergraduate at the University of Heidelberg. Pharmacy is a great
subject that combines biology, chemistry, physiology and pharmacology. I was
always interested in medicines and diseases, but I cannot see blood. So
studying medicine was off the table, but pharmacy happened to be the prefect
I enjoyed my
undergraduate a lot, but it included long hours in the laboratory. Lab work was
never something I enjoyed. I found it rather boring… But luckily as pharmacist
you have loads of other opportunities in community pharmacies, industry,
hospital or research.
I was very lucky to get a job as
clinical pharmacist in a hospital. My main objective was to increase patient
safety on the wards. I had a great time going from ward to ward, identifying
patients with medication errors, and telling the doctors or nurses off that
made the error. It always felt a bit
like being the safety police of the hospital.
But at some point I felt like I
wanted to study again, I wanted to learn something new and be challenged a bit
more. That’s when I decided to do a PhD. I found a great project that took the
work I was doing in the hospital on a small scale to another level. Before I
was looking through the patient’s health records by hand, now I am evaluating a
computer programme that automatically screens all electronic health records of
a patient and identifies medication errors. The pharmacists does not need to
screen each patient, but can focus on how to communicate medication errors to
the responsible doctor.
The burden of
medication errors is estimated to be about £89.1 million per year for the NHS.
This highlights how important it is for the NHS to invest in programmes that
aim to reduce medication errors. But
unfortunately, the NHS does not have endless money to fund great ideas like
this. That’s where health economics becomes interesting, because we can show
the value of money of the new computer programme. To do so I am using
electronic health records from GP-practices and hospitals to investigate the
relationship between medication errors, patient harm and costs. Quantifying the
burden of medication errors enables us to estimate the true value for money of
the computer programme. Results on the value for money of such programmes aims
to aid decision making by policy makers on
whether to fund such programmes or not.
So if you like numbers, you are not
scared of statistics and you want to make the NHS a bit safer, this is the
perfect opportunity for you!
Learn more about Pharmacy https://www.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/study/pharmacy/
Little introduction video to understand what health
economics is about (only 3 minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUay9DV__G0
Learn more about what we do as health economists in our
What are electronic health records that I use in my PhD
Why are health records important for research? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GNbe3-d3KdQ
Hi, my name is Shreya, a Master's student at the University
of Manchester. My Master’s is in cancer research, an extremely topical and fast
paced field. After completing three years of medicine, I decided to take a year
out, known as 'intercalating', to explore research.
The knowledge of how innovative and pioneering the current
projects are, coupled with the fact that I had a previous interest in the
clinical side of cancer, solidified that this was the field for me. After this
year I’ll return to finishing my medical degree, now with the perspective of
working as a researcher. The invaluable skills I’ve learnt and will continue to
develop this year should only help me become a better doctor in the future.
My research is focused on colorectal cancer, one of the most
common cancers in the UK. The project I’m doing specifically involves patients
that have had advanced colorectal cancer, which has unfortunately spread to the
lining of the abdomen. This type of cancer is difficult to treat and involves intricate
surgery that lasts for around 8-10 hours. Patients after this surgery have
kindly donated their tumours in order for our team to analyse them. We are looking
at the DNA of the starting tumour and the DNA of the tumours that have spread,
in order for us to see how closely related the two tumours are. This project
has many elements to it and involves a large team, I’m working closely with surgeons,
pathologists and lab researchers who are using state of the art techniques and
facilities to get the most accurate results. My main role will be to analyse the
raw results, which should start to become available within the next month. At
the moment I am mainly delegating and in charge of organising, as there are
many people involved, it can often be difficult, but I’m enjoying the
communication aspect. Performing a DNA profile of the starting tumour (primary)
is common practice in hospitals, as it helps doctors come up with a treatment
plan tailored to the tumour type. A profile of the tumour that has spread
(secondary) is not routinely done, therefore the profile of the primary is also
used to treat the secondary. This project aims to see if there are any
differences in DNA between the two, and whether the secondary site should also
be analysed for establishing treatment plans. A lot of information can be
gained by looking at the DNA of tumours, and more information is needed to help
manage this advanced disease, which currently has a poor prognosis.
My project is a good mix of lab work and clinical; often
projects are one or the other. This means I get the opportunity to explore both
kinds of research. I am also exposed to many different environments, for
example, I have sat down with pathologists and looked at tumour samples under
the microscope, as well as having the opportunity to be in the genomics lab and
understand the process of DNA profiling. Being able to have these experiences
is one of the reasons why I took a year out of medicine. Despite having
previous reservations about doing a Master’s (mainly due to adding an extra
year to my already long 5 year degree!) I’m happy with the work I’m doing, and I
have been enjoying experiencing the world of research.
For more information on DNA and genes: https://www.genomicseducation.hee.nhs.uk/genetics101/what-is-dna/
I am based at the world-renowned Christie
Hospital which is pioneering in cancer research, for more information on the
research they do have a look at their website: https://www.christie.nhs.uk/professionals/research/
For general information about cancer, check out
the Cancer Research UK website: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMImcevrJDr3wIVCbDtCh2byAaqEAAYASAAEgII7vD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds#/
For more information about applying for medicine
at Manchester: https://www.manchester.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/courses/2019/01428/mbchb-medicine/
For information about the Masters in oncology