Meet a Bioscientist: a student's perspective

23 March, 2022

Meet a Bioscientist: a student's perspective

Meet a Bioscientist: a student's perspective

For British Science Week 2022, researchers from 15 of our amazing research groups and facilities held conversations with school groups across Cambridgeshire and beyond so the students could explore more about the research here at the Institute and what being a scientist is like. Eleanor, a Year 12 student at Comberton Village College, shares her experience of meeting a bioscientist:

On the 11th March, Year 12 Biologists had the unique opportunity to attend a talk by researchers from the Babraham Institute. Many of us thoroughly enjoyed the compelling picture of the work of a bioscientist, thanks to the Hawkins Lab team.

Our visitors work in the Signalling department of the Institute, researching the role of enzymes and other proteins in the formation of cancer. Their presentation offered a fascinating description of their work on PIP3 and its effects, as well as explaining how researchers work. Biology students were shown the variety of information sources, from cell cultures to real patients, as well as the different graphs and trials that the lab creates.

PIP3 is a phospholipid1 with three phosphate groups in its head. The formation of PIP3 from PIP2 (another type of phospholipid) is catalysed by the PI3K enzyme2, which is activated by a conformational change3 of a protein in the cell membrane. After PIP3 is produced, proteins within the cytoplasm4 bind to its head. This process is linked to cell growth. One of these proteins is PLEKHS1, which the Babraham researchers discovered was associated with cancer growth. Their experiments suggested that PLEKHS1 forms a positive feedback loop5 with PIP3, leading to uncontrolled cell division – cancerous cells. Alongside this discovery, the scientists also found that PTEN (an enzyme that turns PIP3 into PIP2) could help to prevent cancer because of its role in stopping cell growth. These revelations have helped to kickstart the development of new drugs to prevent and treat cancer.

It felt a little strange seeing how we could understand the concepts before us; things I wouldn’t have fathomed knowing five years ago. The experience acted as a signal, revealing the crossroads we stand at; a realisation that a career in this vital research is truly on the horizon. I’m sure that many students left the Lecture Theatre with new knowledge and fresh thoughts about their place in the future of science.

Glossary of some terms used in blog post