Aithne Atkinson, Research Postgraduate, Department of Brain Sciences

“No matter how far away your work is from the clinic, there is nothing more motivating than bringing patients and the public into your research bubble.” 

After completing my undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology and a Master’s degree in Cancer Biology, I chose to undertake a PhD at Imperial. Imperial is all about research, but being a researcher is not all about lab coats, hypothesis testing and data analysis. 

Although most of my time was lab-based (pre-pandemic) I have really enjoyed taking opportunities to gain insight into the clinical impact of research through patient and public engagement activities. I have helped to deliver charity lab tours and taken part in clinical trial design discussions with clinicians, scientists, patients and the public. I’ve found that no matter how far away your work is from the clinic, there is nothing more motivating than bringing patients and the public into your research bubble and talking to them about what you do! 

I am based in the Neuro-Oncology multidisciplinary research group in the Department of Brain Sciences where our scientific and clinical teams work closely together. My research focuses on identifying novel metabolic and immunological features of rare melanomas which are targetable for treatment. I grow samples of tumours taken from patients and test out how they respond to the treatments that we are researching in our lab. I’m looking at what the tumours use to fuel their growth and how this can be removed without affecting the rest of the body. 

Since the start of the pandemic my work has been largely home based. I have found that my hobbies and sports are such an important part of my life. I have taken full advantage of the incredible asset that is Imperial College Union, making the most of the wide-ranging clubs, projects and societies offered. I have been involved with the SCUBA underwater club for six years now, both as a committee member and voluntary instructor. We have held virtual bar weekly nights since last March which are great fun. Now more than ever, I am appreciating the social and outdoor benefits club life can offer. If not in the lab or at my computer, I am probably underwater…! 

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