Birkenhead School, 89-96
UCL, London, 1997-2003
Milkman (boy), Shop assistant (selling tellys and washing machines), Student (London), Postdoctoral Researcher (Ottawa, Canada), Lecturer (London)
Job title is ‘Lecturer’, but spend most of my time in the lab
University College London Institute for Women’s Health
Favourite thing to do in my job: Looking down the microscope at brightly coloured cells.
Am trying to work out why womens’ eggs get a bit dodgy as they get older
It’s well known that women find it more and more difficult to get pregnant as they older. Whereas the chance of getting pregnant (assuming a few other important events take place) is generally quite high in the 20s, its much lower in the 40s. A major reason for this is the egg. For reasons that are very poorly understood, eggs which are ovulated by younger women are usually healthy – but eggs ovulated by older women have a high chance of having the wrong number of chromosomes (‘aneuploid’). These eggs are usually unhealthy (not surprisingly – having the wrong number of chromosomes is kind of a big deal). So, although they may get fertilised, they will almost certainly not develop into a healthy baby. In fact, most of these oocytes probably die before the woman even knew she was pregnant.
This is pretty important as these days couples want to wait longer before starting a family.
I try to understand how eggs normally try to make sure they have the right number of chromosomes… and how this might go wrong as women get older. This involves lots of staring down microscopes looking at chromosomes and the part of the egg which is normally responsible for making sure that the egg has the right number – the spindle. See attached image – the egg is the big round thing, the spindle is the bright green oblong part within the egg, and the chromosomes are in blue (the image on the right is a zoom of the left, the egg is eighty um wide – fifteen side-by side make 1mm). Our most important findings so far have been discovering different ways in which egg spindles are different to spindles in other cells – and our hope is that this will eventually lead us to understanding what goes wrong…
My Typical Day
Coffee, lab, email, lab, meeting, more coffee, lab, teaching, pub, home (and check more email)
What I'd do with the prize money
My plan is to pay a camera-man for a day or two to come into our lab and make a small video of what we do, and why, chat with a couple of the students in the lab etc etc. Maybe a 20 min video. Like, a day in our lab! I’d get this made into a DVD, and have a copy sent to each of the classes ive webchatted with, and hopefully, each of the schools in IAS (if the money streches that far).
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Tall, slightly hyperactive.
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Worked out a particular aspect of how eggs ‘talk’ to other cells in the ovary
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Errr, yes, quite a lot. Was never ‘really naughty’… but frequently sent out of classes for talking too much/too loudly… and for shouting out in class (Sorry Mr P)
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Well… will listen to almost anything… but have a bit of a softspot for… wait for it… country and western music (yes, really)
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Lived in the jungle in Panama
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Have smaller feet (i find difficult to get shoes), Play center forward for England (OK, not v. realistic), Win Nobel Prize
Tell us a joke.
What’s green, brown, and would hurt if it fell out of a tree onto you?………………………………………………………… a snooker table