EASTBIO Student Cohort 2012

Congratulations to our first cohort students who have now completed their programme of doctoral studiy and graduated!

To find more about our students, either scroll down the page or click on one of the four priority areas each student's research is located in. The thematic cohorts for 2012 are:

Bioscience for Health

Andrew Castle (Edinburgh , Roslin)
Project title: Does loss of prion protein accelerate cellular senescence? A molecular description from proteins to metabolites
Personal note: Hi, my name is Andrew and I am studying for my PhD at the Roslin Institute, part of the University of Edinburgh. My project is to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying the physiological function of the cellular prion protein, a protein previously reported to have neuroprotective properties. I also recently completed a PIPS internship as a policy researcher within the Scottish Parliament Information Centre. The main focus of my placement was writing a briefing for MSPs on the subject of “Obesity in Scotland”; this was published by the Parliament in January 2015. Before moving to Edinburgh in 2012 to start my PhD, I completed an undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Bath. My degree included a fourteen month industrial placement at the biopharmaceutical company MedImmune, which I spent in the research neurobiology division of their Cambridge office.

Louise Christensen (Aberdeen)
Project title: Oxidative stress, life history trade-offs and ageing in wild mammals
Personal note: I am an eco-physiologist and I am interested in the physiological costs/ benefits associated with a range of life history trade-offs in a wild mammal. More specifically, I investigate markers of oxidative stress – both oxidative damage and antioxidant protection – in plasma samples from the isolated population of Soay sheep, St Kilda (Scotland). I want to find out if redox status determines overwinter survival and/ or reproductive output, or if increased growth rate in lambs carries a cost in terms of increased oxidative damage. Because the sheep are isolated, unmanaged and free from predators, they make for an ideal population in which to study evolutionary life history trade-offs.
Vanessa De Mello (Aberdeen)
Project title: The role of the Hippo pathway during development and ageing
Personal note: Hi there, I’m currently carrying out my PhD at the University of Aberdeen as part of the EASTBIO doctoral training partnership. My PhD involves looking at the role of the ‘Hippo Pathway’, a developmental pathway, in skeletal muscle. From my PhD I’m hoping to contribute into understanding how muscle stems cells are regulated during development and how this changes in ageing. Prior to starting this PhD I carried out a Bsc(Hons) degree in Pharmacology at the University of Portsmouth, this was soon followed by my Masters degree in Regenerative Medicine at the University of Bath. I then decided to move from academia into industry and worked as Techologist at Abbott Diabetes Care for almost two years. I soon found myself missing research and secured my PhD in October 2012; I hope to combine my both aspects of research and industry in the future. Outside of Academia, I help write, illustrate and design for Aberdeen University’s Science magazine; better know as AU magazine.

Alexandra Diamond (Aberdeen)
Project title: An Investigation in to the Role of Slits and Roundabouts in Limb Development
Personal note: Hi, I’m Alex, and I graduated from the University of Nottingham with a first class degree in Human Genetics before moving to Scotland. I am now a PhD student funded by the EASTBIO Doctoral Training Partnership at the University of Aberdeen. My 4-year project, entitled “An Investigation in to the Role of Slits and Roundabouts in Limb Development”, forms part of the Basic Bioscience Underpinning Health research theme. I focus on the roles of axon guidance molecules, some of which have been linked to joint disorders such as scoliosis and kyphosis, and their role during joint development. Outside of the lab I love to go on adventures; surfing, wild camping and exploring all that Scotland has to offer.

Patrick Guest (St Andrews)
Project title: Investigation of the metabolic changes in the ageing mammalian brain

Dean Houston (Roslin, Edinburgh)
Personal note: Having developed a strong interest in the musculoskeletal system during my final year of a Medical Sciences degree at the University of Edinburgh I am now carrying out my Ph.D. in Bone development at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh. My Ph.D. looks at the role of a key enzyme, Phospho1, in the initiation of skeletal mineralisation. This research is critical to further our understanding of bone mineralisation and the associated pathologies. With the help of a ‘Barbera Mawer travelling fellowship’ award from the Bone Research Society, I am currently carrying out lipidomic analysis on embryonic bones to uncover the substrates of Phospho1. As part of the Basic Bioscience Underpinning Health priority area it was a great privilege to be awarded funding to present my research at the ‘U21 celebrating ageing research’ conference in New Zealand. I spend the bulk of my spare time with outdoor pursuits of all kinds, but especially those of the two-wheeled variety.

Fiona Hamilton McLean (Aberdeen)
Project title: A proteomic study linking the effects of diet, aging and cognition
Personal note: Hello! My name is Fiona and I started my PhD based at the Rowett Institute at the University of Aberdeen in 2012. I am interested in the effects of a high-fat diet on memory, specifically a type of memory called episodic memory. Episodic memory is a complex type of memory and is compromised early in neurodegenerative diseases. During my PhD I have also carried out an internship at the Scottish Government and worked on public health policy development with a focus on the nation’s diet. Prior to my PhD I studied at the University of Dundee and in 2012 completed my BSc in Biochemistry and Pharmacology. Outside of my PhD I really enjoy doing public engagement and frequently write for the Aberdeen University Science Magazine. In my spare time I enjoy yoga, horse riding, play piano and violin and volunteer as a Guide leader.
Research Outputs (notable presentations):

  • Society for Neurosciences Annual Meeting, Washington, DC, USA, 15th-19th November 2014; Poster: Episodic-like memory is rapidly compromised by a high-fat diet in C57Bl/6 mice and is associated with markers of hippocampal neuronal damage identified by proteomics.
  • European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) Oxford Workshop, University of Oxford, UK, 8th-11th August 2014; Invited Presentation: The Effect of a High-Fat Diet on Memory.

Prizes: I’m a Scientist Get Me Out Of Here Winner June 2014 (public engagement)

Magali Sivakumaran (St Andrews)
Project title: Out with the old, in with the new: Novelty judgements as a translational tool to assess healthy ageing.

Rebecca Louise Watson (Edinburgh)
Project title: Immune variation in a wild mammal
Personal note: I’m an evolutionary ecologist with a particular interest in studying physiology in the wild. I have previously worked in endocrinology exploring ways to measure and understand hormone variation in a number of species. However, my PhD research has taken me towards a different area of physiology into the field of immunology. I’m interested in why we find individual variation in immunity and what the ecological consequences of this might be. My PhD project is focussed on developing and validating a variety of measures of immune phenotype in a wild population of Soay sheep on St Kilda. These measures will include FACS-based assays of T cell phenotypes, classical haematological cell counts, ELISA-based assays and ex vivo proliferation assays of lymphocytes. My aims are to understand the how these measures of immune phenotype relate to one another and to other traits such as reproduction, growth, parasitic infection and survival. Using longitudinal data collected since 2011, I will test how immune phenotypes change with age across the lifetimes of individuals and determine how these changes relate to fitness under natural conditions.

Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy

Charis Georgiou (Edinburgh)
Project title: Rational design of isoform specific ligands
Personal note: I am a third year PhD student in the University of Edinburgh where my research is focused on the Rational Design of Isoform Specific Ligands for Cyclophilin family of proteins. To facilitate the development of isoform-specific cyclophilin ligands, we are pursuing detailed studies of cyclophilin dynamics and binding thermodynamics using molecular simulations and free energy calculations, biophysical assays and protein x-ray crystallography.

Ciaran Lamont (Dundee)
Project title: Biohydrogen as a Fuel: Understanding and engineering hydrogenase enzymes for biotechnological applications
Personal note: Hydrogen has long been seen as a ‘clean fuel’ and an ideal replacement for fossil fuels, not only due to its high energy-to-mass ratio, but also by way of water vapour being the sole product of its combustion. Fermentative bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Salmonella can produce hydrogen gas at ambient temperatures via enzymes called hydrogenases. Because of this, it has been envisaged that such microbes could be employed to generate this green fuel from organic waste to help satisfy our energy requirements. Unfortunately, hydrogenases do not naturally operate at the rates required to make this a viable method to generate industrial quantities of hydrogen at present. As such, the work I am doing in my PhD is geared towards the augmentation of hydrogenase activity.

Chris McLean (Edinburgh)
Project title: Human SK1 and S1PL: Studies of the enzymes that control S1P levels

Justin Slikas (Edinburgh)
Project title: DNA-based Nanomechanical Devices
Personal note: I work on DNA nanomechanical devices at the School of Chemistry, University of Edinburgh. I construct DNA machines that can act autonomously in a controlled manner and would ultimately perform useful work at a nanoscale level. As a MChem Chemical Biology graduate from Warwick University, I have always enjoyed working at the interface of biology and chemistry and have so far gathered a plethora of skills from synthetic organic chemistry to microbiology and nucleic acid chemistry. Apart from my research, I enjoy a fair bit of outdoors, arts and shooting with the Edinburgh University Rifle Club.

Sesha Venkateswaran (Edinburgh)
Personal note: I was born in Tamilnadu, India. I have a Bachelor of Technology degree in Chemical Engineering (75%) from Coimbatore Institute of Technology. I also have an MRes degree in Chemical Engineering (Distinction) from Newcastle University, where I learnt the principles of Process intensification from Prof Colin Ramshaw, the pioneer in the field. I have many years of experience in chemical, food, flavour, fragrance and ink industries in various responsible positions in operations, product development, commercialisation and business development. I have passed UKAS-accredited training as lead auditor for ISO-9001, ISO-14001, OHSAS-18001 and also have a green belt in Six sigma. I considered pursuing a PhD at various stages in my career. During a term in the ink industry, while developing and commercialising various dye-based, pigmented and functional inkjet inks, I became thoroughly interested in inkjet technology and its practical applications. So I decided to pursue a PhD in a related area. In Sep 2012, I joined the world-leading, multi-disciplinary research group of Prof Mark Bradley -- at the forefront of research in combinatorial chemistry utilising high-throughput, contact and non-contact printing methods. Funded by EASTBIO and Prof Bradley group, through this PhD project which is in the interphase of many disciplines of Science and Engineering, while utilising and continuing to build his knowledge in microfluidics and inkjet, I aim to gain expertise in polymers, discovering novel polymers, their characterisation techniques and also by using microarray technology, study the interactions of these polymers with biological systems to find/fulfil applications in Food and Biomedical industries. My favourite past-times are cricket, food, traditional British ales and I love spending time with my family.
In terms of publications during my research: Bacteria repelling poly(methylmethacrylate-co-dimethylacrylamide) coatings for biomedical devices; see link.
BBC coverage of this work here.

Agriculture and Food Security

Matthew Barnbrook (Edinburgh)
Project title: Plant Hairiness: Its genetic control and role in resistance
Personal note: I am doing my PhD at the Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences, looking at plant hair development in Antirrhinum. Plant hairs are almost ubiquitous in the plant kingdom and are of significant commercial interest for the secondary metabolites secreted by glandular cells at the tip. The Hairy gene in Antirrhinum is responsible for natural variation in trichome production on vegetative tissues. I am using next-generation sequencing techniques to locate Hairy on the genome and to identify transcripts associated with hairiness/baldness. This will hopefully lead to the identification of Hairy and its role in multicellular trichome development. In my spare time I like to do pub quizzes and I’m involved in producing the School of Biological Sciences podcast, BioPOD – give us a listen!

Matthew Dalby (Aberdeen)
Project title: Gut-mediated Immunomodulation of food intake and body composition

Kirsty Ireland (Roslin, Edinburgh)
Personal note: Hi - I am Kirsty and I am currently carrying out a PhD in Neuroscience at the Roslin Institute with the University of Edinburgh. My research investigates amyloid plaque formation in a novel system which involves living slices of brain tissue. The aim is to discover more about the pathological systems in neurodegenerative diseases. When I am not in the lab I am outside enjoying all that Edinburgh has to offer for cycling, walking and socialising.

Vrushali Patil (Dundee)
Project title: Developmental molecular biology of barley reproductive architecture

Anuj Sehgal (Roslin, Edinburgh)
Project title: Investigating the role of M cells in uptake of gastrointestinal pathogens
Personal note: I am a student at the Roslin Institute from the 2012/13 cohort of Eastbio students. My research interests lie in mucosal immunology, specifically in antigen sampling mechanism by the intestinal epithelium. Using advanced imaging techniques (confocal, multiphoton, etc.) in in vivo mice and in vitro organoid models, I intend to understand antigen sampling at a cellular level. Further interests include understanding the development of the immune system and in vitro modelling of the intestinal epithelium.
Research Outputs:
Anuj Sehgal et al. “Ablation of macrophages by prolonged blockade of CSF1R signalling depletes M-cell differentiation in the intestinal epithelium.” Immunology 2014 Oct; 143: 13-14.
Gow DJ, Sauter KA, Pridans C, Moffat L, Sehgal A et al. “Characterisation of a novel Fc conjugate of macrophage colony-stimulating factor.” Nat Mol Ther. 2014 Sep; 22(9):1580-92.
Sauter KA, Pridans C, Sehgal A et al. “Pleiotropic effects of extended blockade of CSF1R signaling in adult mice.” J Leukoc Biol. 2014 Aug; 96(2):265-74.
Sauter KA, Pridans C, Sehgal A et al. “The MacBlue binary transgene (csf1r-gal4VP16/UAS-ECFP) provides a novel marker for visualisation of subsets of monocytes, macrophages and dendritic cells and responsiveness to CSF1 administration.” PLoS One. 2014 Aug 19; 9(8):e105429.
Mabbott NA, Kobayashi A, Sehgal A et al. “Aging and the mucosal immune system in the intestine.” Biogerontology. 2014 Apr 5. [Epub ahead of print]
Honours or Prizes (during PhD):
Date – Competition – Honour/Prize
02/12/2014 – Scientific Writing competition: Wellcome Trust and Guardian Newspaper Science Writing Competition 2014: Essay shortlisted into first round of judging
09/11/2014 – 2014 Imaging Got Talent Competition – Most Entertaining Presentation
06/11/2014 – Roslin and R(D)SVS Ethics Essay Course – Best Ethics Essay
14/08/2014 – ERI Science Photography Competition – Winner: Regenerative Medicine Category
30/04/2014 – R(D)SVS Research Student Day – Best 2nd Year Poster
09/12/2013 – EBRC Photography Competition 2013 – Winner: Strictly Science Category
24/04/2013 – R(D)SVS Research Student Day – Best 1st Year Poster

Matthew Turnbull (Roslin, Edinburgh)
Project title: The role of the influenza A virus B-allele non-structural segment 8 in host adaptation and pathogenicity
Personal note: I work on influenza A virus (IAV), and specifically how IAV is able to jump from avian hosts into mammalian species.  This is an important topic in IAV research, as the virus can cause devastating outbreaks if it adapts to a new host and can transmit efficiently. The project involves using a model strain of the virus, manipulating its genome, and looking at the subsequent effects on viral replication and the host cell response to infection. This way, we can assess individual viral genes and their role in host adaptation. We hope to improve the understanding of virus adaptation in order to improve current control measures and therefore reduce the social and economic impact of IAV outbreaks.

World-Class Underpinning Bioscience

Gillian Coackley (Edinburgh)
Project title: MicroRNAs in host-helminth interactions

Bruno Giotti (Edinburgh, Roslin)
Project title: Analysis and modelling of the mammalian cell cycle  pathway

David Magill (Dundee)
Personal note: Hi! I’m David, and my PhD is based in the Division of Cell Signaling and Immunology, College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee. I completed my undergraduate in Anatomy and Physiology here at Dundee, and decided to stay on to complete my PhD after undertaking my honors project in my current lab. Over the next four years I’ll be studying the effect by which the peripheral endocannabinoid system (ECS) modulates energy balance and metabolism. Our goal is to elucidate the mechanisms by which drugs, aimed at targeting the peripheral ECS, alter cellular metabolism. Such work aims to aid the development of new ECS-targeting therapeutics to prevent and treat obesity. Outside of the lab I am a massive foodie and love traveling to new countries to try local cuisines and learn more about different cultures. If you have any questions about EASTBIO or PhD-life in Dundee then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Eirini Maniou (Dundee)
Project title: Interdisciplinary analysis of signalling pathways during chemotactic cell movement

Matthew McFarland (University of Aberdeen)
Project title: Using ribosomal feedback loops to control gene expression in synthetic biology circuits
Personal note: I’m originally from Aberdeen and I did my undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences (Molecular Biology) at the University of Aberdeen. I’m still here, now in the third year of my PhD, and I’m based up at the Institute of Medical Sciences where I’m researching methods of translationally controlling gene expression in Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Baker’s yeast).  In particular, my project aims to develop synthetic auto-regulatory gene circuits that allow a cell to respond to translational stresses (such as those encountered when expressing a heterologous protein at high level) using a combination of experimental biology and mathematical modelling.
In my spare time, I like to cook, watch telly and play copious amounts of video games. I also occasionally go outside.

Alison McGarvey (Edinburgh)
Project title: Gene networks defining haematopoietic stem cell development

Elaine Mitchell (Dundee)
Project title: Stochastic spatial models of transcription factor dynamics: A systems biology approach to intracellular signal transduction pathways

Hannah Parkin (Edinburgh)
Project title: Heparan sulphate proteoglycans in the developing mammalian forebrain
Personal note: Hello! I’m Hannah and I started my PhD at the University of Edinburgh in 2012 after also studying for a Masters degree in Neuroscience here. Previously I completed my undergrad in Biochemistry at the University of York. My project involves looking at how signalling in the developing mammalian forebrain is regulated by a class of molecules known as heparan sulphate proteoglycans. We use transgenic mouse embryos to study what happens when the structure of these molecules is altered. As part of the EASTBIO programme I completed an internship with The Brain Tumour Charity, based in Hampshire. This proved to be a really rewarding experience-I got to see how funding for research projects is decided and have a go at writing up some science in ‘layman’s’ language. Outside of the lab I obviously enjoy (a lot of) chatting and tea drinking/cake eating time with my friends and have recently taken up ballet and pilates to let out some of that PhD stress!

Laurence Picton (St Andrews)
Project title: Short-term memory of neural network output via Na+/K+ pump regulation
Personal note: I am currently a PhD student at the University of St Andrews. My PhD project focuses on how the activity of neuronal networks in the spinal cord control locomotion and how their rhythmic activity can be modulated through different mechanisms. In particular, my project focuses on how the sodium pump protein (Na+-K+-ATPase), which is expressed in all cell membranes and accounts for over 50% of energy consumption in the human brain, acts to tune the excitability of neurons co-ordinating locomotor rhythm generation. I use electrophysiological techniques, including extracellular and whole-cell patch clamp recordings, to explore how the sodium pump and dopamine contribute to the regulation of swimming in Xenopus tadpoles and walking in mice.

Sarah Tennant (Edinburgh)
Project title: The entorhinal grid system

Nikoleta Tzioutziou (Dundee)
Project title: The role of the nucleolus in mRNA biogenesis in Arabidopsis

Katie Younger (Dundee)
Project title: Control of Apoptosis in Response to Mitotic Arrest