is celebrating his win by ... oh still being in the lab at midnight.
Shrewsbury School 1991-1996
Degree in Biochemistry with Molecular Biology with a year in industry at Leeds University 1996 – 2000; PhD in Biochemistry at Dundee University 2000-2004
Summer jobs in a meat factory, car factory, data entry office, typing records for a solicitor. Spent a year of my degree working for one of the largest drug companies – AstraZeneca. Managed to get a part time job in a Lab in my final year at Uni.
Postdoctoral Research Assistant in the Division of Biological Chemistry and Drug Discovery.
University of Dundee
Favourite thing to do in my job: Presenting data from an experiment that worked really well or gave some really surprising results – either at work or in a conference.
I try and find ways of killing parasites that cause disease in poorer parts of the world.
I use computer programs to try and predict individual genes in parasite cells that they absolutely need to live. Then I try and remove those genes from real living parasites and see if I’m right.
If I do find a gene that parasites need to survive, then I go on to make the protein that normally comes from that gene and I try and find chemicals that stop the protein doing it’s job. Whenever we find a chemical that can stop one of these proteins working, or even sometimes chemicals that kill the parasites without us knowing how, then we’ve got the beginnings of a drug that could eventually be used to treat fatal diseases.
The work I just described can take a couple of years or more, so I usually work on several genes at once – each at different stages of the process – some still on computer, some at the stage of removing the gene and some at the protein stage. Some projects drop off half way through just because the parasites find a way round the problem we’ve given them and even if we do find a chemical that works, it often also kills humans cells – not very useful! When we find something successful though it can still take 5-10 years for it to become an actual treatment for use in Africa or Latin America for example.
The diseases me and my colleagues work on all affect poorer areas of the world like sub-saharan Africa. This is great area for universities to take the lead in because most similar work is done in drug companies, and at the end of the day they’re businesses – they need to make a profit to survive. Universities can get funding for doing good science that benefits the world – we don’t have to be able to make money out of what we do.
My Typical Day
Running experiments, designing future ones, trying to work out what yesterday’s results mean…
Walk into work… make tea and try and remember what I work on… feed parasites in a containment lab – checking they’re still alive under the microscope…add some chemicals to parasites to see if they’re still alive 3 days later… drink more tea… go to a meeting – listen to someone from the lab or a visitor talking about their work to see if it will help me in one of my projects, or if I have suggestions for their work…make coffee… read some scientific papers online to see data published from around the world – sometimes to learn how to do a particular experiment, sometimes to find a single number that I need in my own experiments…spend an hour with Excel planning calculations for experiments or interpretting results, maybe building up a database of numbers from some of the papers I’ve been reading… have tea with the rest of the team… start growing bacteria so I can purify some protein from them tomorrow… setup a test with some radioactive chemical (very carefully!) to see if a protein I purified works… chat to one of the chemists I work with about a project (while drinking tea)… desperately try to understand the chemistry he’s talking about… fail… clean up lots of equipment I’ve been using… go home and put the kettle on.
What I'd do with the prize money
Produce resource materials for schools showing how research in neglected diseases using basic science can help produce drugs that help people worldwide.
I’ve been going into schools to help out with some projects, lunchtime science clubs, get involved in one or two classes. Most of the students are really interested in what I do and particularly the idea that science can help to improve people’s lives – and everyone loves gory pictures of parasite infections – like this one of a parasite being removed from someone’s eye
or this one of a boy with worms coming out of his nose…
So I like the idea of coming up with a workshop of experiments that could be taken round schools linked with some debate about how science affects the developing world.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Questioning, focussed, tired.
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Used results from about 2 years of experiments to show that something in the textbooks was wrong.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Sometimes for being late for a class when I lost track of the time or lost some homework (used to be very disorganised). Sometimes for arguing with one my teachers I didn’t get on with. Apparently I almost put a guy in hospital when I was in primary school but he was bullying my brother and I’ve calmed down a lot now.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Too many – listening to a lot of the White Lies at the moment. I love the Adam and Joe show on 6music when it’s on – good banter and it’s introduced me to a lot of new music I like. Once travelled to Holland to get into an underground DJ Tiesto gig.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Well I’m a Christian, so number one would be to know God better, the other two would be to have a gyrocopter on my roof I could fly around in my spare time (they’re very cool) and to have a hottub in my lounge to relax in after a hard day’s work.
Tell us a joke.
How many quantum physicists does it take to change a lightbulb?… No one knows for sure! hahahahaha.