Wow!!! Thanks so much everyone!
Favourite Thing: Ask a question… come up with an idea… then put it to the test!
Méanscoil Iognáid Rís, Drimnagh Castle (2001-2006); University College Dublin (2006-2011); University of Cambridge (2011-present)
Irish Junior & Leaving Certs; BSc (Hons) Physiology & Pharmacology; MSc Imaging & Microscopy; National Qualification in Emergency Medical Technology (NQEMT)
I used to work as a youth leader in the Irish speaking summer schools
PhD Researcher at the Clinical Pharmacology Unit, Addenbrooke’s hospital
I’m funded by the British Heart Foundation and working toward my PhD in medicine at University of Cambridge
Me and my work
I explore how the kidneys control blood pressure by altering the salt and water content of our bodies
My Typical Day
Wake up… e-mails… check-up on my mice… experiments (involving blood, bones and body bits… but mainly kidneys)… read research papers… more e-mails… analyse results… scratch head in puzzlement!
What I'd do with the money
Visit schools to run practicals to show how the kidneys filter our blood and make urine
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Creative, Fun-loving, Quirky
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Kíla (they play a fusion of Irish and World music)
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Explored my Dad’s hometown in Malaysia
What did you want to be after you left school?
I’ve always wanted to do something in science or medicine… so I did a combination of both!
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
I always got in trouble for talking too much
What was your favourite subject at school?
Biology (I love learning about how living things work!)
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Invented new 3D imaging techniques using only lego and agarose gel, then the image could then be printed in 3D!
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
Watching David Attenborough from about the age of 3…
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
Lighting designer for theatre/concerts
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Love, health and happiness (cheesy I know… unless I could cash in my 3 wishes for a Nobel prize?!?!)
Tell us a joke.
Me in the wet laboratory of the clinical pharmacology unit… where the magic happens!
I use genetically modified animals in my research. In my mice we have mutated one specific protein so that it no longer works, we call this a loss-of-function knock-in. To be able to tell the difference between normal mice and those carrying the genetic mutations we take samples of DNA to test them and determine their “genotype” (i.e. genetic makeup). This is an image of a gel that is used to separate DNA by size; each column has the DNA of a different mouse. On the right and left there are ladder markers with known sizes of DNA, my protein has a bright band at 600 for the normal protein [+] and the mutated is at 700 [-]. Each gene has two copies, so the mice can either be wildtype [+/+] (both copies of the gene that code the protein are normal), heterozygote [+/-] (one normal and one mutated copy of the gene) or homozygote [-/-] (two copies of the mutated gene).
This is a laser scanning confocal fluorescence microscope I use in my research. It uses laser beams to give energy to tiny particles I’ve attached to proteins I want to look at. These particles then glow a specific colour (e.g. green) that the microscope can detect at very high magnifications to take an image.
Here’s an example of an image I took on the confocal microscope of a mouse kidney. The kidneys are made up of many thousands of tubes that you can see outlined in dark blue in the picture, these are made up lots of even smaller cells and the red spots are the nuclei of these cells. Different tubes do different jobs and I’m interested in the ones responsible for reabsorbing salt, so one of the proteins that transports salt I labelled with green to see where it is expressed in the kidney.
This is how I measure blood pressure in the mice, it’s a technique called direct carotid manometry. The mice are under anaesthetic and can’t feel anything during the entire procedure. I surgically insert a small probe into the blood vessels to directly measure the blood pressure. When you lose salt you lose water too, and this can cause a drop in blood pressure. So I measure the effects of the gene mutations on salt and water content in our bodies and how that affects blood pressure.
Another way our bodies control blood pressure is to cause our blood vessels to contract or relax. This is a picture of a piece of equipment called a myograph that measures this by looking at how the blood vessels respond to different drugs that cause them to contract or relax.
Here you can see the aorta (the large artery that leaves the heart) of a mouse wired up in the myograph. To give you an idea of just how small these are, take a look at the tiny wires that go through the blood vessels… these are less than half the width of a human hair! When the blood vessel contracts it pulls on these wires and the myograph measures the forces generated.
Genetic mutations can also have unforeseen side effects in other parts of the bodies and we’ve found that our mice get changes in the density and strength of their bones. However this also seems to happen when people take drugs to treat high blood pressure that block the kidney’s ability to reabsorb salt and so we are trying to work out why there is this link!
We use a technology called DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry) which allows us to measure bone density and how much fat and muscle these mice have. The machine passes two different energy x-ray beams through the mouse. Bone, fat and muscle absorb the x-rays at different amounts so you can measure the difference in these to work out the quantities of each. It’s not much different to getting an x-ray of your arm or leg if you’ve ever broken a bone.