Photo:

Elizabeth Ratcliffe

Great chatting with you!

Favourite Thing: My favourite thing in science is making new discoveries. When I’m doing an experiment it’s exciting to find something new. Sometimes this happens halfway through an experiment so its really fun to see what happens next. It gives me a great feeling of achievement to find something new and its exciting to think about how the new discovery can be used to help advance science.

My CV

Education:

Harrington Junior and Wilsthorpe Senior School, Nottingham, 1988-1997. Bilborough College, Nottingham, 1997-1999. University of Nottingham, 1999-2008.

Qualifications:

GCSE’s (can’t remember what!). A-levels in Biology, Chemistry and Maths. BSc Hons in Microbiology. MSc in Molecular Medical Microbiology. PhD in Microbiology and Vaccine Research

Work History:

Cinema / various factories / care assistant in a nursing home / laboratory technician / microbiology technician.

Current Job:

Research Scientist in Regenerative Medicine

Employer:

Loughborough University

Me and my work

I use robots to grow cells and tissues that can repair, restore and heal the body. To learn how we can safely make new and improved medicines for incurable diseases. Taking inspiration from Dr Who’s ability to regenerate!

I’m a Healthcare Engineer working on developing new manufacturing methods for making Regenerative Therapies that can help the body to fix itself. Probably the best known regenerative therapy is a bone marrow transplant which is used to help patients who have leukaemia. Many regenerative therapies contain cells, either stem cells or cells that have been grown from stem cells.

My research combines biological and medical research with cutting edge engineering. I work to provide new solutions to barriers in making cell-based medicines (regenerative therapies). Many of the barriers we face are around “scale-up” which involves changing the manufacturing process from a small volume to a much larger volume. As well as from a hands-on method (which takes up a lot of our time) to a hands-off method where we can use robots to do the work for us. These changes make the process more controlled, quicker and cheaper. This will allow companies to be able to safely make the required volumes of the therapy to treat the many patients who need it.

I work with companies to develop and use new robotic technologies for growing cells. One of our robots is called the CompacT SelecT (made by a company called TAP Biosystems) and I use it to grow cells in larger volumes in quicker time. Some cells grow better if they are moved around, these cells are grown in bioreactors which stir the cells up, for example blood cells – which grow under flow conditions in our bloodstream. We have another robot called the advanced microscale bioreactor (ambr, also made by TAP Biosystems) and we have used it to grow blood cells. The ambr automatically looks after 24 mini bioreactors; one bioreactor can fit in the palm of your hand. The robot automatically stirs the bioreactors and can sense changes within them so it can keep the cells at their favourite temperature and medium conditions (pH, oxygen content). I work with the robot to add cells or medium to the bioreactors or take samples to measure growth.

If you want to know more about my work:

  • I’m a member of the HEART team and you can keep up to date with our goings on at the Healthcare Engineering And Regenerative Therapies (HEART) blog here (http://www.heartblog.net/). Look out for posts on my work into Gene Therapy and Synthetic Biology in the next few weeks!
  • I’m a lead researcher for the EPSRC Centre in Innovative Manufacturing in Regenerative Medicine: http://www.epsrc-regen-med.org/

My Typical Day

My day is split between being in the lab and being at my computer. In the lab I’m setting up robots, checking the stem cells and doing tests and experiments. My computer work involves going through data to look for new results and make graphs, writing up my work and contacting other scientists and companies. I use e-mail a lot for my work.

My days can be very different, some days I can be doing teaching activities for the University.

Other days I could be travelling for my work. Meeting with companies or going to scientific conferences where lots of scientists meet up, share their work and come up with new ideas and ways of working together.

Sometimes I have a lot of writing to do. This can be writing scientific papers or writing applications for money from the government and companies to be able to continue my research.

I work on many different projects at once. At the moment I’m working on three different projects. Generally I’m working on something different every day which makes it all really interesting.

What I'd do with the money

Plug n play robot programming! Can you master the robot without killing your “virtual” cells! You can:), well how about real cells then?

I would like to give you remote control of one of our robots. To use in a school science project and watch the robot doing your programme over the internet. I would then like to invite schools to visit my labs to see the robot doing your work up close.

The big CompacT SelecT robot would be good for this (see pictures below). The money would be used to make a webpage where you can “plug n play” your robot programming skills – without killing your “virtual” cells!

Forget “flappy birds”, you’ll have to think about how to get the robot to do what you want but also how to keep the cells happy for them to grow. For example, its great fun to see the robot arm whiz round at high speed (also a bit scary as the robots are expensive!) but your precious cells will all die.

Everyone in your class could have a go at running virtual programmes or you could do this in teams. You would then need to decide as a class which virtual programme should be used for the webcam run. This could be the best team or individual programme or you could mix and match programmes to make a super-programme!

With a bit of help from me the robot would perform your programme and you would see everything via the webcam. I could then send you results on how your programme worked.

Well that’s what I’ve got so far but I’d love to hear what you’re ideas are and whether you like this idea

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Science-loving Mum

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Too many favourites! At the moment I’ve been listening to a lot of Fall Out Boy, and a bit of Ellie Goulding for good measure

What's your favourite food?

Chocolate:)

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Recently I went on a Tropical Cyclone raft ride. Myself, my husband and my brother got on an inflatable raft and chucked ourselves down a giant water flume. It had a ninety degree drop into a massive cone-shaped bowl where we whizzed up and down, lifting the raft completely off the sides. It was fun and I screamed a lot!

What did you want to be after you left school?

A vet.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Not really, me and my friends had fun but we didn’t cause anyone else grief. I did once start a water fight at school :P

What was your favourite subject at school?

It changed depending on what we were doing and whether it grabbed my interest. Mainly history, art and science.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

It’s hard to choose one thing. Science has allowed me to travel and present my research to new people. I once travelled across five American states in five days which was really exciting. I’ve also been able to work with companies who are making real-life new medicines. I’ve been able to help them in their work to get new medicines for incurable diseases to the patients who need them.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I was interested in science as a child. I really enjoyed science programmes like the Royal Institution Christmas lectures. Some of my inspiration came from a very sad time in my life. When I was eleven my cousin died of a disease caused by a virus. As I grew up I started to wonder how tiny little things like viruses and bacteria could cause harm to people and animals.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

If I weren’t a scientist I’d like to either be a writer or an artist. I like being creative and using my imagination.

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1. To keep my family healthy and happy always. 2. To be able to fly. 3. To never get stressed

Tell us a joke.

Sodium, sodium, sodium, sodium, sodium, sodium, sodium, sodium, Batman! (chemical sign for sodium = Na)

Other stuff

Work photos:

Some of the robots I work with are very large myimage1 and inside they have a robot arm which can move like our arms do, but the robot can also do things really fast or really slow with more control. This robot is used to grow cells that like to stick to surfaces and spread out so we grow the cells in flasks that the robot arm can pick up (links to robot videos at the end) myimage2

This is me working with the one of the robots in our normal lab – it looks a bit sci-fi! myimage3

We have another lab that is kept extremely clean so we can work in the same way that companies making cell-based medicines work. This includes getting dressed up in what we call “bunny” suits. There are lots of bacteria on our bodies so we want to cover up as much of our skin and hair as possible when working in the clean labs. The air is even measured for the number of dust particles while we work in there myimage4

To store the cells we “cryopreserve” them – this means we freeze them in a super-cold cryogenic state using liquid nitrogen which is 196 degrees below the freezing temperature of water (-196). We have to wear safety gear including a mask and cryogenic protective gloves. We can then revive the cells by warming them up again when we need them myimage5

I also work with smaller robots that fit on a bench, this robot is for cells that like to move around to grow (e.g. blood cells in our bloodstream). We grow these cells in bioreactors which stir the cells up. This robot has 24 mini bioreactors so we can do different tests in different bioreactors; one bioreactor can fit in the palm of your hand (links to robot videos at the end myimage6

Bioreactors come in different shapes and sizes and it can be difficult to find out what the cells are doing inside. One of my research projects used a new way of imaging bioreactors to see cells and liquid patterns inside. The “spider” bioreactor has eight arms that are used for getting liquid and gas to the cells inside, the picture shows some hot-spots of cells (red) lit up inside the bioreactor myimage7

My office is a big open plan office with lots of researchers and students so there is always something going on myimage9

In the office I do a lot of computer work, including making cool 3d graphs of what the cells have been doing in the experiments! The red hot-spot on the right hand graph is where the cells are happiest myimage10

If you want to know more, you can look at my group website here (http://www.epsrc-regen-med.org/)

If you want to see videos of the large (flask) robot working you can view them here

(http://www.tapbiosystems.com/tap/cell_culture/CBCT_video_gallery/CBCT_videogallery.htm)

If you want to see videos of the small (bioreactor) robot working you can view them here(http://www.tapbiosystems.com/tap/cell_culture/ambr_videogallery.htm)