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LISA SIMPSON (2016 - present)

Lisa Simpson, DPhil student in Cardiovascular Science© Lisa Simpson/Medical Sciences Division

Lisa Simpson, a 2nd year student on the BHF Cardiovascular Science Programme originally from Aberdeenshire, attended her local Academy before studying Physiology at the University of Aberdeen. This first exposed her to cardiovascular medical science, and after graduating Lisa chose to work as a research assistant with Professor Paul Leeson in Oxford: she wanted hands-on experience in the lab before embarking on a doctorate, and felt Oxford would be the best place to get it. Doing this also helped preparation for her DPhil application: Lisa knew potential supervisors better, and had explored the interdisciplinary and collaborative cardiovascular community at the university.

Lisa particularly chose the BHF programme because of the option of doing rotations in the first year, gaining knowledge of new techniques and areas of research; when she started her main project with Ellie Tzima she had therefore worked in three different Oxford labs. Lisa is working in particular on mechanotransduction in vascular health and disease: amazingly, we still don’t know how endothelial cells sense blood flow. Mechanosensors have been and are being identified but we don’t really know how different types of flow are sensed, and this is critical because turbulent flow is associated with the formation of atherosclerotic plaques. An overarching question is: can we inhibit the pathogenic effects of mechanotransduction without disrupting protective flow signalling? One main approach Lisa takes is to use immunofluorescence imaging, which enables her to show how cells (and their actin filaments) align in the direction of flow in linear blood vessels where the blood flow is uniform – alignment is a hallmark of the anti-inflammatory endothelial phenotype. In contrast, cells exposed to turbulent flow, such as those found in areas of the vasculature which curve sharply or branch, cannot align and have increased pro-inflammatory markers.

Lisa’s typical day in the lab starts sometime between 9 and 10am and she leaves for home between 6 and 7pm. As with any research-based job, there’s a need for flexible working but this is also an obvious advantage of doing a DPhil. Lisa says, the key thing is to be professional in your approach.

Lisa is a student at Worcester College, playing football for the college team and enjoying other aspects of college life: Common Room events, bar nights and dinners. Lisa says it can be harder to integrate at college as a scientist if you don’t live in but there are still plenty of opportunities and getting involved in a college sport, society or committee position is great way to feel part of the college community. She also likes baking for her lab – and is a big fan of British Bake Off.

Overall, Lisa believes that because the British Heart Foundation is a charity there’s a need to engage with them, to help in raising money and communicating with donors. The BHF Programme at Oxford is part of a national network, and the National Meeting of BHF students is a highlight of each year, giving the opportunity to speak to BHF staff and other BHF students across the country, putting lab work in context and in perspective and giving her experience in wider communication.