Loreto Grammar School, Omagh (2001-2008), Newcastle University (2008-2011), Queen’s University Belfast (2011-2012), University of Liverpool (2012-2016)
BSc Medical Microbiology and Immunology, MRes Molecular Medicine
I’ve worked in a pharmacy, a card shop and I worked as a youth leader at an Irish language summer college
Many people suffer from gastric reflux, a condition that causes stomach acid to travel back up the throat. Some children, who have illnesses which affect the way their brain works, have gastric reflux. Because they cannot cough very well to stop it, some of the stomach contents, including acid, gets inhaled into their lungs. This happens slowly over time and causes these children’s lungs to become slightly acidic. The acidic environment causes lung cells to behave in a strange way; they get stressed and many of the cells start to die. The lungs become damaged and aren’t able to do their job properly. When this happens, the children can become unwell and sometimes they have to stay in hospital for a long time so they can have treatment.
I want to know how the lung cells behave when they are exposed to an acidic environment. I look for signals that the cells send out to say they are unhappy and also look for changes that happen to the cells when they are left in this acidic environment. If we know how the cells are stressed out and why they die then we can make new treatments to treat children with gastric reflux so their lungs stay healthy and they don’t have to spend time in hospital.
My Typical Day:
I grow lung cells on plastic dishes and put acid on them to see how they react
I grow a special type of cell that can grow and divide again and again and again without dying. My cells are healthy lung cells which have had their DNA changed so that they never stop growing. I grow these in plastic flasks or plates in a liquid called media that contains all the nutrients they need to survive.
When I do experiments I add some hydrochloric acid into the media and measure it’s acidity using a pH meter. When the media is at the right pH, I pour it onto the cells and leave them in a cupboard, called an incubator, that keeps the cells at 37° Celsius (the same temperature as your body!). After a few hours I take the cells out again and collect the media and the cells. I do tests on the media and cells to find out what is being made by the cells. Some of the proteins that are made by the cell may be released as stress signals. If I know what kind of stress signals the cells are sending out I might be able to find a drug to make them relax again.
What I'd do with the prize money:
Donate the money to funding STEM projects in the Merseyside area
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Short, loud and curious
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
David Bowie and Beyonce
What's your favourite food?
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To finish my PhD
Tell us a joke.
How do you know atoms are liers? Because they make up everything!