Photo:

Kylie Belchamber

Really enjoying the live chats! I can't type fast enough!

Favourite Thing: Confocal microscopy – I stain cells with dyes that light up different colours when you shine lasers on them. I then take pictures of different structures inside the cell and make videos of cells moving, but the cells are stained bright blue, green, pink and red!

My CV

Education:

Complain Community School (1998-2003), Southdown’s College (2003-05), University of Portsmouth (2005-08), University of Surrey (2008-2012)

Qualifications:

PhD in immunology, BSc (hons) in pharmacology (the study of drugs), 4 A levels, 10 GCSE’s

Work History:

GlaxoSmithKline

Current Job:

Post-doctoral Research Associate

Employer:

National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London

About Me

I’m an immune cell biologist, knitter and hiker that bakes a lot of cakes, sometimes successfully!

Hi I’m Kylie!

I work at the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College in London, which is one of the leading lung research centre in the world! I am an immunologist, which means that I study the cells that make up your immune system, called white blood cells. These clever little cells wonder around your blood and organs and eat up anything that shouldn’t be there, they are pretty awesome! I love my job and love playing with things in the lab.

When I left school I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but loved science and English so took them at A level. I still loved science so decided to do a degree in Pharmacology at the University of Portsmouth (where I grew up). Pharmacology is the study of drugs, so I learnt a lot about how drugs work in the body. My favourite topic at uni was immunology, so I decided to do a PhD in immunology at the University of Surrey in Guildford, where I studied white blood cells in asthma. At the end of my PhD I really loved working in lungs, and got a job as a post-doctoral researcher at Imperial College London which is where I am now! I still don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up, but am in a job that I love so that is fantastic!

I live in Basingstoke with my husband and our cat Murphy, who is my fluffy alarm clock every morning (he likes to sit on me to wake me up). Because I work in London, it takes me an hour and a half to get to work, so I spend a lot time on trains! I read a lot of books, and watch a lot of movies (I love hunger games and anything with Jennifer Lawrence in!).

I love camping in the sun or the rain, have spent more of my fair share of time in bogs, and love going hiking with my friends. I love crochet, and make lots of body parts and baby toys. My favourite word is plump!

 

My Work

I study white blood cells in the lungs, called macrophages, that eat bacteria (like pacman!).My research focuses on trying to find out what goes wrong with these cells during lung disease

I study white blood cells, which are the cells of the immune system which fight off infections and stop you from getting sick. You know when you get a spot and all the white pus stuff comes out? That is white because it is full of dead white blood cells! There are two cell types that I study, the first are called macrophages, and the other are neutrophils.

Macrophages are white blood cells that lives in your organs and tissues. They are big cells that move around between your cells, and eat up anything that shouldn’t be there, exactly like how Pacman goes around eating dots and ghosts! Macrophages will eat pretty much everything, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, other dead cells, and in the lungs they will eat things that you breathe in, like pollution, pollen and tar (if you are a smoker).

Neutrophils are another type of white blood cell that lives in your blood and moves into your organs when you get an infection. They small cells that can kill bacteria by cosying up next to them, and releasing chemicals that will dissolve the bacteria, and then macrophages can come along and eat up the dead bits.

I study these cells in the lungs, as in certain lung diseases, such as asthma and emphysema, they don’t work properly and cannot eat as much as in healthy people. These causes people to get lots of lung infections, which can make them very ill. I take blood and lung samples from patients with the diseases, and from healthy people as a control, remove the white blood cells, and do experiments on them to study what, where and how they eat things, and try to make them eat more.

I also teach biology and medical students about the immune system, and have lots of students in the lab to look after as well. My group also gets involved in fundraising for the British Lung Foundation, who do amazing work for people with lung disease. Here’s a picture of me dressed as a minion in the lab for ‘onsie day’!

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My Typical Day

I take blood from patients, isolate the white blood cells, grow them in dishes, feed them bacteria and watch what happens

I live about 1.5 hours away from work, so on my commute into work I usually try and get some work done, but fail to do this and end up reading a book or watching TV instead! I get to work between 9-10am, have a cup of tea and go through my emails and check twitter (I manage our lab group twitter @teammacrophage, and also the British Association of Lung Research @balrcommunity where I am communications secretary), plus catch up with the other people at work.

I then walk across the road to the hospital, where I collect blood taken from patients, take this back to the lab and isolate the white blood cells. I do this by layering the blood on top of a sugar solution called percoll (see before picture), which separates the cells based on their size and weight. I can then extract two cell types – monocytes, which I grow in a dish, and after 12 days they turn into macrophages; and neutrophils which only live for about 6 hours outside of the body, so I have to be quick with them! (see after picture).

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I will then do experiments on the cells, by feeding them bacteria, fungi or dead neutrophils that have been dyed fluorescent green, blue or red. I leave the cells for a few hours to eat, then use different methods to study how much they have eaten. I do this by flow cytometry, which is a machine that fires lasers at the cells, and can detect different colours, and by microscopy (see image below. The macrophages are dyed red, the nucleus blue and bacteria green).

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When I am waiting for the cells to eat, I reply to emails, read articles written by other scientists, and write my research into articles. It is really important for scientists to share their experiments with each other, so I spent a lot of time reading and writing papers to do this.

I usually go home about 6pm, and spend the evening watching TV and playing with my cat, or seeing friends and family.

Part of being a scientist is attending conferences with other scientists, and presenting your work in front of hundred of people all interested in the same thing as you. This is really fun, and I have been lucky enough to go to conferences in America, Japan and across Europe to present my work and meet amazing scientists! Here is me presenting in Barcelona, Spain

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and my poster in Munich, Germany.

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What I'd do with the money

I’d design and create an exhibition to teach people about the immune system in the lungs

I would work with the outreach team at Imperial College to design and create an exhibition to teach people about the immune system in the lungs. I would love to build a model of the lungs and show how macrophages, neutrophils and other immune cells work to keep them healthy, and explain what happens when people get infections. I love working with schools and the public to share my science with them, so having some amazing props would make this even more fun! Below is a picture of me at the Imperial College Heart and Lung Convenience store in Hammersmith shopping centre, with lungs drawn on the blacboard (I’m on the right).

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I would love to take this model to exhibitions and schools to get school children interested in immunology and health, and teach them about their lungs. I would also take it to meetings with our patients, to teach them about their lung disease and show them how we are using their samples to try and fix them. We have regular meetings with our patients, but having something visual and fun to show them how their disease happens would be really helpful.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Friendly, upbeat, reliable

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Norah Jones

What's your favourite food?

Cheesecake

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Backpacked across Japan – I sunbathed on tiny islands, fed deer in the park, stayed with Monks at the top of a mountain, and ate a lot of noodles in Tokyo!

What did you want to be after you left school?

Something to do science, but I didn’t know what until I got to uni

Were you ever in trouble at school?

I got detentions for late homework a lot

What was your favourite subject at school?

Biology and History

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Presented my work at a conference in Japan

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

Polly Matzinger – an amazing female scientist who made some awesome discoveries about the immune system

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

A zookeeper

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1.To be happy and fulfilled in life. 2. To always have enough money (if I could fund my own research, that would be amazing. Then I could work on some really cool, strange things that normally would not get funded!) 3. Unlimited cake

Tell us a joke.

My friend threw a block of cheese at me. I thought to myself ‘well that’s mature!’

Other stuff

Work photos:

Here is a video of a macrophage eating lots of bacteria!

This is my lab, well a part of it anyway. Everyone has a lab bench each, where they do their experiments and keep their solutions. We also have lots of machines and computers to do experiments with.

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This is my bench. It is normally messier than this! The blue things on the stand are my pipettes, which I use to measure liquids accurately (I can get down to 0.5 microliters, which is 1/10,000th of the volume of a teaspoon!).

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This is my cell culture hood. Because blood and tissue can carry diseases, we have to use them inside a special hood that removes and filters the air. It means that we are protected from the blood, and the cells are protected from us! We have three cell culture hoods in this lab, which are named after the powerpuff girls!

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