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From the lab to the peak district

Posted by , on 31 August 2015

Thanks to the travelling fellowship, awarded by the Company of Biologists, I was fortunate enough to undertake a period of research in the laboratory of Prof. Marcelo N. Rivolta at The University of Sheffield, England.

I am a 3rd year PhD student in the Laboratory of Developmental Biology at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. The laboratory researches into the development of the inner ear. The ear is the sensory organ responsible for hearing and balance, and consists of two main cell types which form the sensory epithelia of the inner ear: neurons and hair cells. Our laboratory is particularly interested in the molecular generation of inner ear hair cells, which are responsible for transducing sound waves into neural activity.

Hearing is important for daily interaction with others and the surrounding environment. Loss of hearing can have large social and emotional implications on health and well-being.  According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 360 million people worldwide have hearing loss, which is commonly the result of damage to the inner ear hair cells (HCs). Mammals have lost the potential to regenerate hair cells and neurons and therefore cannot repair damage in the inner ear. Therefore our research is of particular importance, in order to develop techniques which will allow for inner ear hair cell replacement. In recent years, stem cells have appeared as a potential therapeutic solution, at least in the case of neurons. The laboratory of Prof. Marcelo N. Rivolta at The University of Sheffield is a centre of excellence in stem cell research. The group are specialists in the isolation of otic like progenitor cells form human embryonic stem cells. Their main goal is to develop stem cell therapies that can be used to cure deafness. Therefore it was in the best interest of both laboratories to establish a collaborative project in order to learn from each other’s expertise.

My experience in the lab was ineffable; working with the otic progenitors was not easy during the early stages of my project, but with the help and support of the group it became significantly easier overtime. Protocols for otic cells isolation are very stringent and require a high level of dexterity, precision and patience.

People in the lab were very kind and the working environment was warm and welcoming. I had the fortune of accompanying the laboratory on a team day to Warwick Castle. As well as getting to know the people in the lab, I also had the opportunity of exploring South Yorkshire. I visited the Peak District, the first national park in Great Britain. It is one of the most beautiful landscapes I have laid eyes upon, blanketed in luscious greenery and framed (on a good day) by clear blue skies. There you can find marvellous scenery and nature, a perfect place for a runner like myself. The thick Yorkshire accent, continuous rain, and cold weather made my native Barcelona seem a world away. I did, however, succumb to the charm of the North in the end!

In summary, my fellowship has given to me the opportunity to experience research and life overseas. I have learned a lot about stem cells, which I know will help me in my career as a scientist. I would like to encourage other young scientists to take the opportunity to travel if they are fortunate enough to be given such an opportunity, since intercultural understanding is as important as scientific understanding when working in collaboration with overseas scientists.

In conclusion, I would like to give thanks to The University of Sheffield for facilitating my research, to Professor Fernando Giraldez for his continuous support and supervision and to Prof. Marcelo Rivolta, for his continuous supervision, guidance and patience. Finally, I would like to thank the Company of Biologists for granting me the fellowship.

Warwick Castle

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Categories: Funding, Lab Life

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