PhD student Emma Cawood writing on a board in a lab at the University of Leeds.

Emma Cawood

What research are you undertaking?

I am trying to identify and develop small molecules that bind to β2-microglobulin, which is an amyloid protein associated with a disease called Dialysis-Related Amyloidosis.

What is the purpose of your research?

There are two purposes: firstly to explore methods which can help us to identify small molecules which bind amyloid proteins like β2-microglobulin; secondly, to use the molecules I have developed with the aforementioned methods to gain a better understand how β2-microglobulin causes disease at the molecular level.

How will this apply to real world applications?

In order to be able to treat amyloid diseases, we need both an improved understanding of their underlying molecular mechanisms, as well as improved techniques for the identification of small molecules that can be developed into drugs. My project is designed to help us in both these areas.

What facilities and specialist equipment do you use to help you carry out your research?

Most of my work so far has involved using the high-resolution mass spectrometer in the Chemistry department, but my future work will involve the use of the NMR facilities within the Astbury Biostructure Laboratory. This will help me to understand the way in which certain small molecules interact with my protein target, and the effect of this interaction on the way the protein behaves in solution.

What do you particularly enjoy about your research?

My project brings together lots of different areas of biology and chemistry, and therefore gives me an opportunity to learn a wide range of techniques and skills, including both experimental and computational methods.

Why did you choose to undertake a PhD at the University of Leeds?

I enjoy learning things and solving problems – and doing a PhD in science allows me to both those things on a daily basis.

I choose the University of Leeds because it seems to have a much more collaborative atmosphere than many other universities, making it much easier for you to investigate and answer scientific questions. Additionally, the Wellcome Trust PhD program offered here gives you a great opportunity to explore different fields and techniques before settling on a particular project. This helps you both to learn new things that you might not have otherwise been exposed to, and gives you confidence that the PhD project you have chosen is right for you.

Who is your supervisor? How have they helped you with your research so far?

I am co-supervised by Professor Andrew Wilson and Professor Sheena Radford. They are always more than willing to offer advice if I’m having issues with any aspect of my project.

What are your plans after you complete your PhD?

I want to continue doing research in academia, and so I plan to apply for post-doctoral positions.