Hometown: Portsmouth, U.K.
Degrees: BSc (Hons) in Veterinary Sciences, Royal Veterinary College (U.K.); PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology, King’s College London (U.K.)
Supervisor: Penney Gilbert, Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering
Tell us about your post-doctoral research.
An important goal for muscle stem cell research is to understand how different cues enable the cells to “sense” their environment and respond correctly. Whilst we know how some muscle stem cell activation signals, others are less understood. One example is the impact of force. Every time a muscle contracts, force occurs on the muscle and muscle stem cells. However, muscle stem cells activate only when an injury occurs. Is this because the cells “sense” changes to force? We believe the ability of muscle stem cells to sense force might be important for muscle repair, as individuals with the neuromuscular disorder Emery-Dreifus muscular dystrophy often lack proteins involved in the force-sensing machinery.
To address this question, my post-doctoral research will explore how muscle stem cells sense forces within the muscle, and know when to activate. By comparing healthy muscle stem cells with those lacking the sensing machinery (the LINC complex) we can identify how forces affect muscle stem cell behavior, including activation and growth, and the consequences this has on making new muscle. This research could reveal new therapeutic targets to restore muscle stem cell function in aged or diseased muscle tissue. Preventing muscle wasting will reduce the economic burden of neuromuscular disorders in Canada, which currently costs millions of dollars annually.
Why did you choose to do your post-doc in Toronto?
Toronto is such a friendly city and has a fantastic reputation for research in stem cells and regenerative medicine. I chose to move to Canada (and Toronto, specifically) to take advantage of this unique research environment, to make new collaborations and to gain insight into how bioengineering techniques can help solve fundamental stem cell questions. Most importantly, the strong mentorship provided by Professor Gilbert is already helping me to make the most of my post-doctoral studies.
What do you plan to do after your post-doc?
After my post-doc, I would love to continue my research in an academic position, using molecular and bioengineering techniques to uncover stem cell dysfunction in neuromuscular disorders, with the aim of transferring this knowledge towards future cell and gene therapies.