Downs school, Newbury (1996-2003)
University of Bath, Biochemistry (2003-2007) With 2 six month placements in America
Powdermed, Vaccine research scientist (2007-2008)
PhD in Cardiovascular Medicine
University of Oxford
Favourite thing to do in my job: To learn something new everyday. Everyday I finish work in the lab knowing something new, whether it’s something that doesn’t work or a great idea on where to go next, it is always thrilling.
Understanding how the heart changes it’s fuel during heart disease.
The heart is an amazing organ. In the average life time your heart will beat 2.5 billion times (reference BHF). It has to work every minute of everyday for your whole life. Like a car, when you put your foot on the accelerator you need the power available quickly to make the car go faster. When you want to run, your heart needs to speed up to deliver oxygen to your muscles. Even getting up out of bed requires a change in your heart rate (the speed of your heart). When you get up out of bed, your heart has to work harder to pump blood against gravity to your brain. To speed up, the heart needs more energy and this comes from the powerhouse of the cell, the mitochondrion.
The universal battery of every cell in your body is the Mitochondrion. These small organelles take in sugar and fat from your food and convert it into energy. Fat is broken down by a process known as beta (β)-oxidation to acetyl-CoA. Sugar is broken down by glycolysis again to acetyl-CoA. Acetyl-CoA is eventually converted by the Kreb’s cycle into energy. The energy they produce is stored in ATP (Adenosine triphosphate). ATP is the energy currency of the cell, every time work is required ATP is broken down to ADP and protons to release energy. Every organ in your body uses different amounts of fats and sugars. The heart’s fuel is mainly fat and a small amount of sugar.
The cartoon shows a single mitochondrion. In every cell there can be more than 2000 mitochondria, powering the cell. In each organ there can be billions of cells
I’m a biochemist and I want to understand what happens to the heart when it is injured. When the heart is injured during a heart attack, there is a change in the fuel that it uses and mitochondria start to die. I want to understand what changes in heart cells and why. I use many techniques to answer this question. The first is an experiment first used in 1940 called ultraviolet (UV) spectroscopy. Using this experiment I can see how the enzymes that breakdown sugar and fat change in the heart. Enzymes are large proteins, which help either breakdown or build molecules such as sugar and fat. However, this can only be done on broken cells. Cells are the building block of every organ in your body. We need to break open the cells to look inside of them.
The cartoon shows the healthy heart and the injured heart. The injured heart has a scar called an infarct. This is an area of damage from a heart attack.
Another experiment I do, uses large magnets, called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Unlike your average fridge magnet, my magnet is 7,000 times stronger and is able to look at the different molecules that make up your body. Like the UV spectroscopy, we can look at how sugar and fat is broken down, but this time we can look in living cells and people. Below is an image from a health heart and injured heart. The injured heart isn’t able to pump blood properly and will eventually die.
Images of a normal heart and an injured heart. The injured heart has an “Infarct” at the bottom left, which means it is unable to completely empty the blood (white in the image) from the chamber.
I’m a biochemist at the University of Oxford
More details on how the heart works can be found at the British Heart Foundation website here
More detail on how MRI works can be found at this great website here
My Typical Day
Involves getting in at dawn, drinking tea and then working on my magnet
I’m generally up at 6:30, this means I can cycle to my office for 7. I say “my” office, I share it with 10 other people, but my desk is my kingdom. I have a nice laptop to check e-mails and work with my data. I spend half an hour going through emails and drinking my first of many cups of tea. As you might have guessed, I like tea and it keeps me going through the day. After this go to the lab and start my experiments. The magnet I work on, is always turned on and as it is 140,000 times stronger than the Earth’s magnetic field, I have to make sure I have no metal on me. I spend the rest of the morning working with the magnet.
After lunch I look at the data I produced in the morning, to see if I can see changes. I also spend the afternoon reading new research papers in my field. Everyday you learn something new doing a PhD. It is the most exciting job I have had and worth all the time at school learning about science. Some times you take your work home with you!
In the evening, trying to write a research paper. Sometimes you get a little distracted!
Some days you can be in exciting places showing other scientists your work. The image below is when we all went to Stockholm in Sweden to show our new and exciting data. In the evening we visited an ice bar, a whole room made out of ice. Without the coats we would have frozen!
What I'd do with the prize money
Run an interactive workshop on the amazing human body
Along with other scientists in my lab and building, I would run an interactive day about the amazing body. The body is amazing, every year your heart beats 100,000 times, your tastebuds (the cells that “taste” food) only last 10 days, before being replaced. 80% of your brain is made of water and the average 13 year would need to cycle for 2 minutes to burn off the calories in one skittle (4.6 calories). I want to showcase just how amazing the body is, with interactive stalls and demostrations from doctors and scientist. Throughout the day, scientist would demonstrate what is great about their area of interest and the body.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Inquisitive, Fun and Enthusiastic
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Showing my work at an International conference in Montreal, Canada
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Yeah, I took water pistols into school on the last day
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
White water rafted and river-boarded down the Zambezi river in Zambia
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To be happy, to eventually own my own home and to win a Noble prize
Tell us a joke.
How do you cut the sea in half?…………………………..With a sea saw!