Well done Jo :-)
Deanery High School, Wigan until 2000
Edinburgh for first degree in Molecular Biology, then PhD in Newcastle University in the Institute of Neuroscience
I did a year in industry for Merck Sharp and Dohme where I worked on Alzheimers disease
Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology in Japan
Favourite thing to do in my job: Wearing a lab coat ;-)
I’m interested in how brain cells send messages to one another and how this stops working properly in diseases like Parkinsons.
I work in a University in Japan on the island where Mr Miyagi from the karate kid came from. It’s a sub-tropical island called Okinawa. The name Miyagi is a common name in Japan, like Smith in the UK, so I get to meet lots of Mr Miyagis. Here is a picture of the university I work in and the beautiful surroundings.
As you know, our brains are made up of millions of cells that are wired together and can send information to each other, a big network if you like. In my work I record electrical signals made by brain cells when they receive information from the world… like when we see something or hear something cells in the brain make electrical signals to send to other cells, and then the brain can decide how we are going to change our behaviour in response to the information. By recording these signals in more than one cell we can investigate how the signal in one cell is sent through the big brain network to another brain cell.In many brain diseases, the signals between cells become altered and so information is sent the wrong way or maybe not sent at all and this can have very serious consequences in daily life. Patients with Parkinsons disease have problems with making normal movements. This is because the cells that make a neurotransmitter called dopamine die. It is amazing that losing one chemical in the brain can have such detrimental effects on people’s lives.
My job specifically involves recording electrical signals between brain cells in 2 different parts of the brain-the cortex and the striatum. The cortex is the curly bit you see when you look at a picture of a brain and the striatum is buried underneath that. The cells in the striatum receive signals from the cortex and then process them to send to brain areas that control movement. In patients with Parkinsons and other movement disorders something goes wrong in that pathway where signals pass from cortex to striatum. We can grow cells from the cortex and striatum in a culture dish and record from pairs of cells and see how they communicate with each other normally. Then we can try to understand how this may change when we don’t have any dopamine there. This could give us an idea of how the brains of patients with Parkinsons may change.
Living in Japan, I can be part of local culture and I get to take part in local traditional events such as the dragon boat or ‘Haari’ races. Here is a picture of my team getting into our boat, and one of me with my Japanese friends Akira and Kana who were in the opposing team!
I wake up about 6.30am or 7am as I am a morning person and I like to get the day going. Also, at that time in Japan it is evening in the UK and I can catch my mum for a quick catch up on Skype. I normally skip breakfast or eat some toast in the car. I drive the 30minutes to work and by that time I am really awake. When I get to the office I go online and check emails then I go into the lab to set up for my experiments for the day. I make up solutions that I’ll use to keep the brain cells alive while I am recording from them and any chemicals I’ll use to change their activity patterns. I use very sharp glass electrodes to record from the cells so I use a machine to pull glass to a very sharp tip. I then turn on all the recording equipment. We call this type of set up a rig and I’ll put some pictures on here of what one looks like. Here is a picture of me at my rig.
When I first saw one I thought I was going to cry-it has so many buttons it looked like an aeroplane cockpit and I thought I would never know what any of the buttons did. But like everything in life, you learn in time that it is less complicated than it looks. I then take some cells in a little dish they grow in from the incubator where they live and put them under the microscope. I find two cells under the microscope that I want to record from (we have a special trick in my lab that the cells from the cortex I told you about further up the page a fluorescent green and cells from striatum are not and this helps me find the two types of cells). I then use manipulators to lower the sharp glass electrodes onto the surface of the cells where the seal onto the cell membrane. Electrical currents passing across the cell membrane are recorded through the electrode and sent to a machine called an amplifier which multiplies them up so we can measure them on a computer. I normally do experiments for about 7 hours a day but it depends what I am doing. I normally have a nice leisurely lunch break with friends from the lab as I don’t like to miss eating! About 6pm I normally go home and then I hang out with friends in the evening or pop to the beach for a quick swim.
What I'd do with the prize money
I’d like to buy some shoes to wear to the next science conference I attend (joke)!
I’d actually like to use the money to come back to do some talks in schools in the UK on careers in science and life as a scientist. I had no idea when I was at school what a fun job being a scientist is, and certainly thought all scientists were old men with grey beards, glasses and white coats at all times. Obviously there is a lot more science in the news than when I was really young so you guys probably have a better stereotype of a scientist than I did but still think there should be more talk about the opportunities across the world in science I never knew about growing up.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Smiley, happy, wild
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Scientifically I hope the best thing is yet to come… the thing that drives you to keep asking questions in science is knowing that the best is still to be found… but I’ve also got to travel to lots of conferences to talk about work in some great locations including Australia and California. I also got to spend 2 years living in Japan, learning about Japanese life and culture and also learning a bit of the language!
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Pretty much constantly ;-)
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Oasis (Old school I know)
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Wooo, I’ve done a lot of them! Maybe the 6 weeks I spent in South Africa doing a research project on a game reserve when I was 19. I got to see all the wildlife and learn about life as a researcher and it was amazing in every way.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) To have a flying carpet so I could pop back to my Mum and Dad’s for Sunday lunch from time to time without the extreme flying times and costs from Japan, 2) A little bit more time in the day-I always have so many things I want to do, 3) To stay happy!
Tell us a joke.
I only know rude ones haha