A fish out of water: How a zebrafish researcher is discovering public engagement

04 October, 2018

A fish out of water: How a zebrafish researcher is discovering public engagement

A fish out of water: How a zebrafish researcher is discovering public engagement

As a PhD student funded by the BBSRC White Rose Doctoral Training Program, I am required to carry out a ‘Professional Internship for PhD Students’ (PIPS). This involves a 3-month placement, working on something unrelated to my doctoral research. The scheme has been devised to provide a better understanding of the context of my research, and to give me exposure to alternative opportunities available to PhD graduates. This is how I have found myself far away from my studies in Sheffield, working within the Public Engagement Team at the Babraham Institute.

My research involves using zebrafish to develop up a new way to study senescence. Senescence is what can happen to a cell under stresses such as DNA damage.  Rather than dying, senescent cells  change function and  become inflammatory and active, almost like zombies of their former selves. These ‘zombie’ cells exist as a way of stopping the onset of cancer, but as we age we are exposed to more and more stressors, leading to a build-up  of these cells, which can increase the risk of getting age-related diseases such as cancer, atherosclerosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. Previous research suggests that removal of  senescent cells could help to  treat many of these  diseases. As part of my PhD, I have made a unique zebrafish model that has its ‘zombie’ cells labelled with a fluorescent marker. This means that that we can identify the cells in a live organism to see how they function, and better identify new drugs that can remove them.

Having only been here for a few days, I have been very warmly welcomed, and I am hugely grateful to everyone that I have met so far for helping to make this a smooth transition!

During my first week, I was thrown in at the deep end by visiting a primary school in Norfolk and supporting  workshops on DNA and Fair Testing, as part of the ‘LifeLab’ project. I was also involved in a weekend of activities for LifeLab,  assisting with events and activities across Peterborough and Cambridge. You can find photographs of the events on our Gallery page. Look out for my next blog to find out more about what I got up to.  Looking ahead, a central part of my time here will revolve around developing an ethics workshop for young adults to discuss and debate the issues around Healthy Ageing. While the initial plan will be to involve researchers from all three of the Institute’s research programmes, I am looking forward to taking any lessons learned back to Sheffield and creating outreach opportunities based on the research in my own department.

As I am still a researcher at heart, and to meet as many Babraham Institute researchers as possible, I have signed up to talk about my zebrafish research as part of the Institute’s student seminar series on October 15th. I’m looking forward to describing work on a model organism not used in the Institute’s labs and will welcome some tricky questions at the end. And who knows – perhaps a collaboration could be born from it?

To sum up, I am hugely looking forward to spending the rest of the year here, and I hope to meet as many of you as possible.