Matthew Ellis (2017-2020)
Project: Investigating the role of the IGF-1R in prostate cancer
Supervisor: Dr Valentine Macaulay
I graduated from King’s College London (KCL) with a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry, where I became interested in cancer research during my research project. I was subsequently awarded funding to undertake summer research studentships at the University of Cambridge and the National Institute of Medical Research. I received a national scholarship to study an MRes in cancer biology at Imperial College London, working in the Gene Targeting laboratory of Dr Andrew Porter and at the Francis Crick Institute in the Apoptosis and Proliferation Control laboratory with Dr Nic Tapon. I was awarded the Dean’s Prize in Cancer Biology for achieving the highest overall distinction in my year.
I spent the following year as a research assistant in the Marciniak laboratory at the Cambridge Institute of Medical Research before moving to Oxford to commence my DPhil studies. My project uses novel gene editing techniques to study the mechanism of radio-sensitisation in prostate cancer cells, focusing on the type 1 insulin-like growth factor receptor (IGF-1R). This work incorporates CRISPR/Cas9 technology, radiation and DNA damage assays, coupled with both hypothesis-led and unbiased approaches to uncover signalling intermediates involved in the IGF-1R-DNA damage axis.
Before my DPhil, I trained as a domestic violence support worker and volunteered in a local hospital. The clinical focus of the Department of Oncology coupled with the large number of clinician scientists has allowed me to maintain this connection to medicine, through various shadowing opportunities at the nearby Churchill Hospital and Sobell House hospice. Advancing research on a drug experimentally in vitro while seeing its therapeutic benefit in the clinic has been such a rewarding experience.
My interest in medicine has grown during my DPhil and I have been successful in my application to study medicine at University College London (UCL) starting in September 2020. My DPhil funding generously provided by the MRC and a scholarship from Exeter College, Oxford has given me the opportunity to pursue previous lab interests in genetic engineering and cancer biology, whilst giving me the platform to obtain a place at medical school. Without this funding, I would not have the framework in place to pursue a career as a clinical scientist.
Anna Kordala (2017-2021)
Project: Identifying epigenetic modifiers of survival motor neuron protein using small molecules
Supervisors: Dr Suzan Hammond and Prof Matthew Wood
I began my career with a masters degree in Pharmacy (Medical University of Lodz, Poland). During my masters, I had my first experience of lab work during a placement at the University of Chicago (Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics), where I studied mistranslation in mammalian cells. Later, I returned to Poland and worked in clinical trials management. In 2016, I moved to Oxford, initially as a Research Assistant in Prof Wood's group, and later as a DPhil student under the supervision of Dr Suzan Hammond. My current research focus is spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), which is the main genetic cause of infant mortality. Specifically, I am trying to identify epigenetic mechanisms regulating the SMN protein, the insufficiency of which leads to SMA. Having the support of the DTP has been hugely beneficial to me. I started my DPhil pregnant, so I was very grateful to be able to take 9 months off (although up to a year was possible) and also benefit from a funded maternity leave. I have also successfully applied for a supplemental funding award and used it to take part in a Randomised Controlled Trials course. That was especially valuable to me as I am planning to pursue a career in clinical trials after graduation. In the long-term I hope to continue working in the field of rare diseases such as SMA, treatments for which are now gaining momentum, with the first-ever therapies entering the market right now.
Carla Christianne Schmidt (2018-2021)
Project: Investigations on pre- and postsynaptic plasticity
Supervisor: Prof Nigel Emptage
I graduated from Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, Germany, with a BSc and MSc in Molecular Medicine. As a research assistant at the Universtätsklinikum Erlangen, I was able to gain significant lab experience and particularly in the fields of immunology and genetics. However, I was always primarily interested in neuroscience. My research projects during my early studies focused on investigating synaptic plasticity within the brain. As part of my Master’s degree, I came to Oxford for an internship in Prof Emptage’s lab (Department of Pharmacology) where I investigated presynaptic NMDA receptors and their role in synaptic plasticity. In 2018, I joined Prof Emptage’s lab as a DPhil student. I am using electrophysiology as well as in vitro and in vivo imaging to study synaptic transmission and plasticity. Specifically, we are using a minimally-invasive imaging device for high-resolution deep-brain imaging to study the relationship between synapses and learning and memory. In addition to my academic career, playing sports has always been a big part of my life. When I began my DPhil, I started playing for Oxford University Rugby club (OURFC). Rugby is not a popular sport in Germany; prior to moving to the UK I didn’t know the rules of the game and had never seen a game. However, I quickly progressed from the development team to playing in the second team. In December 2019, after several months of hard training, I had the opportunity to play for the first team of OURFC at Twickenham in the very prestigious Varsity match between Oxford and Cambridge. Although sometimes stressful, the intense training sessions provide the perfect balance to my life in the lab.
The DPhil funding provided by the MRC and the Department of Pharmacology has given me the opportunity to pursue my interests in neuroscience. The MRC generously supported me through a travel grant to attend one of the best summer schools for in vivo imaging in Québec in 2019. The MRC DTP supports me in my pursuit of my academic career goals and my athletic ambitions.