veterinary sciences at the Royal Veterinary College, Masters in scientific research of medical microbiology from the University of Surrey and PhD (currently studying) from Oxford University
BSc (hons) in veterinary Sciences, MSc in medical microbiology
part time work in a pet store before and during university then started work at the University of Oxford mid 2013
I help run the oncolytic virotherapy lab here at Oxford University and conduct my own research
Favourite thing to do in my job: See a cool/crazy idea that you’ve thought of actually working (but seeing it totally and utterly fail can be just as interesting)
I train viruses to attack cancer cells only and use this to try to cure cancer!
Our lab based in Oxford university has created several viruses that have been selected to grow specifically in cancer cells. This “oncolytic virotherapy” is a growing field within cancer research as it opens up several exciting opportunities.
Firstly, because the viruses can only grow and kill cancer cells, injecting live virus into a patient with metastatic cancer (cancer that’s spread around the body) would mean that the virus would potentially find all of the cancer cells all over the body and kill them and when it had killed all the cancer cells it would be cleared from the body (due to natural immunity). This allows for an effective and potent cancer therapy without the many side-effects of current therapies such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Secondly, cancer cells spread and grow so well because they are our own cells that have lost the ability to stop growing. This means that the immune system won’t recognise the cancer as being something bad and will often help the cancer grown by encouraging the growth of new blood vessels within the cancer. A virus that can specifically attack cancer cells will eventually cause that cell to burst open and spill out all its contents (along with thousands of viral particles). This mixture of burst cell remains and virus will trigger the immune system to spot something weird is going on and it will go searching for other cells like this (cancer cells) so you are also training the immune system to spot cancer and help to fight it.
Thirdly, because viruses are just a string of DNA or RNA with a shell around it, you can add other bits of DNA to the virus that you want to be expressed. We can add in DNA sequences that cause production of anti-cancer drugs which (because our virus only replicates in cancer cells) will only be produced in these cells allowing us to stop the side-effects of current anti-cancer therapies like chemotherapy causing hair loss.
Also, we can add in a gene from a fluorescent jellyfish that will only be produced in cancer cells and will light them all up allowing doctors to easily remove cancers (especially when they are metastatic.
My Typical Day
growing different cancer cells and infecting with virus then investigating methods of killing and selectivity
I grow different cancer cells in the lab and use patient clinical samples to test how well our virus kills cancer and to see what cells it cannot kill and why.
What I'd do with the prize money
Help students find something about science that really excites them
There is so much you can do as a scientist. The opportunities and areas of study are nearly limitless and there is always something that children and young adults will find and realise is something really cool that they find really interesting.
When I was in A Level biology, my teacher found that bit of biology that we all found interesting and made it tie into our learning and really sparked a love of science in me.
Helping other children find out how exciting science can actually be is something i’ve always been passionate about and always wanted to get involved in. By visiting schools and encouraging children to think about science as being more than learning lists from text books and actually about everything around you and helping them to find that area of science that they say “wow that’s pretty cool!” I think we can encourage a generation of scientists to become the next big name in science and do something wacky/awesome that will change the world as we know it.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Patient, Geeky, Fun
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Getting this job at Oxford University was something I never ever thought would happen. Since then i’ve helped to write papers and meet a load of cool scientists (yes cool scientists exist!) doing crazy things
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My Biology A Level teacher definitely sparked that love of science in me
Were you ever in trouble at school?
A little bit! I’m an identical twin and we used to swap classes quite a bit and wind the teachers up then blame it on each other!
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
I started off thinking i’d be a farm vet so if I didn’t realise part way through my vet degree that I loved science I probably would still be doing that
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Michael Bublé (I know i’m sad!!)
What's your favourite food?
Chocolate fudge cake… or anything with chocolate in really!
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I went for a trip to the canadian high artic to help document and study polar bears which was really great fun (and really really cold!)
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
That I could find a single cure for cancer, That I would never have a bad hair day again and that I could eat all the chocolate and carbs I wanted without putting weight on.