Photo:

Matthew Dunn

Enjoyed the first day of questions, keep them coming!

Favourite Thing: Attending international conferences, I love presenting my work to scientists from all over the world at an exciting location and hearing what they thing about it. We all end up helping one another while getting to visit cool places!

My CV

Education:

St Benedicts Upper School (2004-2009), The University Of Warwick (2009-2012), Keele University (2012-Now)

Qualifications:

BSc in Biochemistry (Warwick), MSc in Neuroscience Research Training (Keele), PhD in Regenerative Medicine (Keele)

Work History:

Blue Coats School (2012-2013), Keele University (2014-Now)

Current Job:

PhD Student at Keele University, Hub Leader for Keele Outreach

Employer:

University of Keele and EPSRC

About Me

I’m a PhD student at Keele University who loves baking sweet things, gaming on my PC and travelling with my girlfriend.

I have a house in Stoke On Trent, where I live with my Turkish girlfriend and our cat, Luna (pictured below)

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On the weekdays I usually go to Keele University or the local hospital where I work in the laboratories. I was interested in most sciences when I was at school, but my passion was always with the brain, especially trying to understand certain brain diseases and disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. I did a degree in Biochemistry at the University of Warwick and then went onto a Master degree in Neuroscience at Keele University, where I am currently doing my PhD in Regenerative Medicine and can finally directly study brain disorders by growing brain cells.

On the weekends I love to travel around different cities in the Midlands (if the weather is nice) or play games and watch TV at home (if the weather is bad, so, most of the time O_o). I’m super into Game Of Thrones at the moment, but I enjoy watching movies (especially Marvel movies), reading science fiction (my favourites include Asimov and Iain M Banks) and listening to music (planning to go to Download festival this year!).

I love to teach and present, both in and out of work, so I can always be found at science fairs such as the Big Bang Fair at Birmingham, and the Imagineering Fair in Coventry, and now online competitions such as this one!

My Work

I grow cells from the brain in order to make a model which can be used to study brain diseases and disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease.

The brain is the single most complicated object in the known universe, with billions of brain cells (also called neurons) and other cell types all connecting in a very specific way, which somehow makes you self-aware, you can think and remember, you can see, read, write, learn and feel emotions.

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But sadly, the brain isn’t perfect, and there are hundreds of brain disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s which affect a large number of people and have mostly unknown causes. This lack of information is because the brain is difficult to study. By making it easier to study specific brain areas, there will be more information and these diseases may be cured or prevented.

That is where my work comes in! The basic idea is to grow a specific brain area outside the brain, in the lab. Trying to grow whole brains would be impossibly difficult, so instead the aim is to grow a small, specific brain area called the “basal ganglia”. This area is important, because damage to this specific area results in many diseases, including Parkinson’s and Huntington’s. This area is in the centre of the brain and is nearly impossible to access, but if we could grow a model of the basal ganglia outside the brain it would be very easy to study, and could be used to test new drugs and treatments, before they are used on real brains.

So that’s what I do. My specific role is to design the model of the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia has five main areas which all connect to each other in a specific way. By designing a model with five areas that can connect in the same way, and by growing cells in that model, I can start to design a basal ganglia outside of the brain. Below is a computer graphic of my model:

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and this is a completed device attached to glass (and filled with food colouring to show that the areas are separate)

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The model isn’t quite finished yet as I am only part way into my PhD, but when it is finished it can be used as a way to research the basal ganglia, and hopefully to learn more information about Parkinson’s and Huntington’s, to try and help the thousands of people with this kind of brain disorder.

My Typical Day

Make things to put the cells in, look at the cells, feed the cells, take pictures of the cells.

My days can be quite different, as half the time I am at a research centre designing my models, and the other half of the time I am at Keele University working with the cells.

Models: Every year computers and phones get faster, and this is due to computer chips getting smaller so that more processors can fit into a smaller space. In fact, hundreds of them could fit across the width of a human hair! I use similar techniques when making my models, as cells are also extremely small and react to even the smallest of changes in shape or size. I use computer programs to design a model, and I can then make the model and attach it to glass, as seen in the pictures. Once the models are ready, I can grow cells in them. This kind of day is the easiest for me, as my house is about a 5 minute walk from the research centre! Below is a picture of part of the fabrication lab:

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Cells: Have you ever tried to grow tomatoes or keep a pet fish? Imagine if you had millions of them and they were too small to see! Most of my typical work involves growing the brain cells and keeping them growing. This work is at Keele University campus, where I bring the models I make at the research centre and then fill them with different types of brain cells. A picture of the lab at Keele is below (beard warning, it was a cold winter okay)

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These are then left to grow for a few weeks until the cells in different areas of the model have connected to each other, then I can take pictures of the cells in the model using a microscope and then see what changes I would need to make to the model. Here’s a picture of the cells (different cells stained with different colours to make it clearer)

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Make a model -> grow cells in it -> decide how to make the model better -> design a new model -> grow cells in it -> repeat. This is the scientific process, and I have already made the model much more efficient than it used to be!

What I'd do with the money

I’d raise awareness of my and other people’s work by attending science fairs and setting up events in schools

With the money I would have more freedom to attend scientific fairs and events, such as the Imagineering Fair (pictured below) as well as creating my own events.

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The general aim would be to raise awareness of the work done by myself and others in the PhD for Regenerative Medicine, which works on brain, blood, bone, lung, a whole variety of different organs, all to help understand and improve the body’s healing process.

Examples of the kind of thing I could do with the money are attending a science fair with a stall/display of our own, creating our own after school club, taking our science out onto the street and the public with ‘Science Busking’, and generally trying to reach more people than I would normally be able to.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Curious, talkative, outgoing

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I love Shinedown, Nightwish, Metallica, all sorts of rock and metal

What's your favourite food?

I love sweet things like brownies, cheesecakes, cookies (and I bake them too much!)

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Hard to pick between skiing, music festivals and travelling Europe, all the most fun with friends

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wanted to work against ageing and other brain disorders, they just seem too unfair to exist in this world.

Were you ever in trouble at school?

I was usually talking too much and asking too many questions, but I did also enjoy setting up poker games at school, which some teachers weren’t pleased with :D

What was your favourite subject at school?

Biology and Chemistry were great to learn, but I also enjoyed Art and Home Economics (loved the baking)

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

Showing people how to take samples of their own cells from the inside of their cheek and look at them with a microscope. While I may get to look at cells every day, people love to see what makes up their bodies and it reminds me how special cells really are.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

Science fiction books and movies made me interested, but it was always Mr Watts, my Biology and Chemistry teacher, who made me inspired to take the science to a higher level at University.

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

Probably a science fiction writer or a baker (got to love the smell of muffins in the morning)

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

To be younger for longer (part of the reason I want to work on ageing is that it doesn’t really seem fair that people only get around 30 good years before their health starts to go super downhill, can you imagine slowly forgetting everything and everyone you know?), to get a big house where my girlfriend and I (and our cat) can live (with a kickass kitchen of course), and for happiness, which is the most important thing of all.

Tell us a joke.

What do you call a fake noodle? An impasta!

Other stuff

Work photos:

Here is my workstation where I spend time writing and sending emails, as well as planning my experiments before going into the lab

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Of course in between experiments we also have lunch 😀

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