The winners of the five 2015 L’Oréal-UNESCO UK and Ireland Fellowships For Women In Science were announced on 23 June 2015 at an awards ceremony held at the Royal Society in London.
The 2015 winners are:
Dr Paola Crippa, University of Newcastle
‘Modelling particulate matter pollution from vegetation fires in South-East Asia’
“According to the World Health Organization 3.7 million people prematurely die each year due to the exposure to atmospheric air pollutants. Most of these deaths occur in developing countries where larger amounts of harmful chemical compounds such as toxic gases and particulate matter are released in the atmosphere. The United Nations recently raised concerns regarding the health and climatic impacts of particles emitted by vegetation fires in regions subject to land use changes and human driven deforestation such as South-East Asia, where they are responsible for 10,800 premature deaths per year. In the proposed research Dr Paola Crippa aims to understand how particulate matter from vegetation fires is transported over South-East Asia and contributes to regional air pollution phenomena. This project makes use for the first time of high resolution simulations from a state-of-the-art regional atmospheric chemistry model to capture both urban and regional scale air pollution features.The model results will be integrated with satellite data to more accurately predict population exposure to harmful concentrations of particulate matter. Results from her research will help to plan for strategies to mitigate impacts on human health in densely populated areas affected by vegetation fires.
Dr Joanne Durgan, Babraham Institute, Cambridge
‘Cell Cannibalism in Cancer: exploring the control and impact of entosis in tumours’
The objective of Dr Joanne Durgan’s research is to investigate the role of ‘cellular cannibalism’ in human cancer, a major cause of death and disease that claims millions of lives each year. Cellular cannibalism is a fascinating process through which one cell in the body is engulfed, killed and digested by another. Cannibalism occurs frequently in tumours, where it is termed ‘entosis’. Pathologists have observed this phenomenon for over a century, but its importance and potential therapeutic value have not been well studied. Emerging research now seeks to 1) unravel the mechanisms that drive entosis, 2) determine the effects of entosis on the tumour and 3) assess whether entosis can be harnessed as a novel means of controlling tumour growth. In her study, she will investigate the effects of cancer-linked genetic mutations on entosis, and to test if cancer cell cannibalism promotes or restricts tumour growth. The research will also investigate how frequently cannibalism occurs in tumours of different types, grades (severities) and genetic backgrounds, to gain new insight into how entosis relates to disease. This work aims to achieve a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between cell cannibalism and cancer, which may open new avenues for cancer research.
Dr Aarti Jagannath, University of Oxford
‘Setting the body clock’
All organisms display 24 hour rhythms in physiology and behaviour, as exemplified by the sleep-wake cycle, but also including rhythms in blood pressure, body temperature and even cognitive ability. These rhythms are driven by a circadian clock (body clock) that is a molecular pacemaker occurring in most cells throughout the body. Whilst we do understand the molecular mechanisms that generate circadian clocks, we have very little idea of how this clock is set to the correct time. Dr Aarti Jagannath proposes to use cellular models of the clock to identify the signalling pathways relay environmental information to the clock. She will do this by testing a range of drugs and biological molecules for their ability to modify the clock and follow through with studies to identify the mechanism by which these molecules have their effect. Sleep and circadian rhythm disruption is endemic to our 24/7 societies and we are now discovering that disruption of the clock can lead to obesity, diabetes and even mental health disorders such as bipolar disease. As a result, there is to be much gained from understanding how the molecular clock is regulated, and by extension, how we may be able to modulate its function when disrupted.
Dr Tríona Ní Chonghaile, University College Dublin
‘The development of a novel HDAC6 inhibitor that can kill chemoresistant breast cancers’
A subtype of breast cancer, called triple negative breast cancer, has a poor response to treatment. The mainstay of treatment is chemotherapy for these patients. Initially, the patients respond to treatment but all too often the patients relapse and then they become resistant to treatment. Therefore, there is a need to identify new therapies that can treat triple negative breast cancer that is resistant to chemotherapy. Following screening 30,000 small molecules, Dr Triona Ni Chonghaile and a team of scientists have identified a molecule that could kill chemoresistant breast cancer cells more readily than the normal non-cancerous cells. She is now trying to understand exactly how this small molecule works and how it can kill cancer cells selectively. Dr Triona Ni Chonghaile hopes to improve the structure of the small molecule so that it can go from a molecule in the laboratory to potentially being a drug used in the clinic that has an impact on patient care.
Dr Rita Tojeiro, University of St Andrews
‘From Bright Stars to Dark Energy’
The 1998 discovery that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating stands as one of the most surprising discoveries in Cosmology. This phenomenon, dubbed Dark Energy, remains entirely unexplained and the quest for answers motivates much of modern-day Cosmology. What new physics drives the acceleration of the Universe, or is it an illusion, stemming from an incomplete theory of gravity? The answer will revolutionise our fundamental laws of Physics. Astronomers can use three-dimensional maps of mass in the Universe to study Dark Energy, but most of the mass in the Universe is in a form that is difficult to observe. So Astronomers map the positions of galaxies instead: collections of billions of stars, gas and dust that can be seen to vast distances due to their brightness. Traditionally, galaxies are used simply as light-houses: beacons in a dark Universe that tell us where most of the mass lies. However galaxies are complex and evolving objects in themselves – a potential complication in traditional approaches. By studying certain aspects of the past lives of galaxies, Dr Rita Tojeiro hope to use their complexity to our advantage and vastly improve the way we use these three-dimensional maps to study Dark Energy.