I am having a great time on I'm a scientist!
I went to school in Greystones, a small town in Ireland. I then went to the University of Limerick, Ireland, where I got a degree in Equine Science in 2001. Then I studied in the Vet School in Dublin where I got a PhD in 2007.
I have a BSc in Equine Science and a PhD in Viral Immunology.
I have worked on sheep farms in Ireland, and stud farms where racehorses are bred in Ireland and Kentucky in the USA. I also worked for two years in the Irish Equine Centre where I tested samples from horses for lots of different viruses. Then I worked in the Vet School in Dublin. I now work in the Medical School at the University of Birmingham.
I’m trying to find out how Hepatitis C virus infects the brain, so that we can design medicines to stop it!
The University of Birmingham
Favourite thing to do in my job I love to do experiments in the lab. My favourite experiment is infecting cells with viruses like Hepatitis C. After the virus has infected the cells for a few days I can see which cells have become infected using a special stain that makes the virus ‘glow in the dark’. I’ve put a picture of some cells that are infected with Hepatitis C virus below.
I work with Hepatitis C virus to find out how it infects the liver and brain.
I work with a virus called Hepatitis C that infects a lot of people – about 170 million people in the world. It is a very nasty disease because many people don’t get better once they become infected. The virus infects the liver, and can cause cancer. I have discovered that it can infect the brain too….well really it infects a bit of the brain called the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier, or BBB for short, is like a ‘gate’ that only lets some things into the brain. So things like sugar are allowed into the brain, but bad stuff like viruses are normally not allowed in. If you drew a cartoon of the BBB, it might look a bit like this:
I discovered that Hepatitis C virus is able to infect the BBB, which means that things can get into the brain that wouldn’t normally be able to. Some people that have Hepatitis C say that they feel tired all the time and can’t do things they could do before they got sick, so this could be the reason why. Right now, I am trying to find out more about how viruses infect the BBB so that hopefully some day we will have medicines to stop this happening.
My Typical Day
Mostly working in the lab but sometimes I write papers and grants.
I normally walk to work along the canal and get to work about 9am. I check my e-mails and plan the day’s experiments. Then I usually go into the lab about 10am and spend most of my day there. We have two main labs, the tissue culture lab where I grow all the cells, and a lab we call ‘Cat 3’ which is the one we grow the Hepatitis C virus in. The Cat 3 lab is used for growing dangerous viruses or ones for which there is no cure. Hepatitis C is a virus that has no vaccine or cure, so we have to be quite careful and only work with it in this special lab. To get into Cat 3, you have to go into a little room where you get dressed in a special lab coat and gloves, and then you go into the main lab where the viruses are kept. I work with the viruses in a special cabinet which protects me from the virus. Here is a photo of me in Cat 3 holding some Hepatitis C virus
What I'd do with the money
Help science teachers spend time working in the lab so that they learn amazing things they can teach you!
I would love it if science teachers could spend some time in the lab during the school holidays. I think it would be cool for them to make some new discoveries and find out about exciting things that are happening in the world of research. They could then tell you about it which would be great in your science classes. I would use half of the money so that science teachers could come and work with me in the lab where they could learn how to do experiments and also learn about the new research that is being done by people who work with me that will hopefully lead to new medicines for lots of different illnesses.
The other half of the money I would give to a charity called TASTE. TASTE is a mobile science lab that works in a country called Uganda, in Africa. They bring their lab around to different schools where they teach science and the children get to do science experiments. Many schools in Uganda do not have enough money to have a science lab, so this way, lots of schools can share a science lab which means lots of children get to learn science! You can see more about TASTE at their website: www.tasteforscience.org. Here is a picture of the TASTE mobile science lab:
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
nerdy, fun-loving, quirky
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Discover that Hepatitis C virus infects the brain – people thought it only infected the liver.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Not really which is a bit weird…I think I just never got caught!
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
I went on the bullet train in Japan which was amazing!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
I would love to publish a paper in Nature, which is one of the best places to publish research. I would also love to become a university lecturer one day. Finally, I would like to have a small farm some day.
Tell us a joke.
What do you call a three legged donkey? Wonky.
Looking at my cells down the microscope. They live in those little bottles and they are fed with a red food we call ‘media’.
Feeding my cells in the tissue culture lab. They have to be fed twice a week, they get really hungry!
Some liver cells infected with Hepatitis C virus…the really shiny ones are full of viruses!
One of my favourite pictures of a liver stained with some glow in the dark stains!
The bullet train in Japan!
Me with one of my lambs – I love sheep 🙂