Medical Biochemistry studentship for University of Leeds student

Claire Windle

Current Medical Biochemistry student Claire Windle has just completed a vacation studentship funded by the Wellcome Trust. Claire’s project was carried out in the laboratory of Dr Harry Rossiter.

Claire said: “Once I complete my undergraduate degree I would like to undertake a PhD, with the intention of having a career in research. Knowing this, I applied for a vacation studentship because I felt that the experience in a research environment would help me achieve my goals. I also felt that this experience would help me to develop skills and understanding that would be valuable to me in my third year dissertation project, and so maximising my chances of securing a PhD place.”

“My project focused on an aspect of heart failure syndrome. This is a condition characterised by cardiac dysfunction and exercise intolerance, the latter being strongly related to life expectancy. Interestingly, when the heart function is repaired (e.g. by heart transplantation), patients do not recover their exercise tolerance. This has led to the suggestion that heart failure also causes a detrimental change in the skeletal muscles themselves. Consistent with this suggestion previous studies have shown that there is a decrease in the amount of mitochondria (the part of the cell that provides a sustainable source of energy for muscle contraction) in muscles from patients with heart failure.”

“My project aimed to investigate whether the mitochondria that remain function in a normal fashion. For this I took a small sample of intact muscle cells and analysed the how well they used oxygen when activated by different biochemicals. After this mitochondria were isolated from cells and were then analysed for activity using a technique called Blue Native Polyacrylamide Gel Electrophoresis. I found that the function of mitochondrial from skeletal muscles was impaired in heart failure. Analysis of the individual components of the mitochondria revealed a dysfunction in part of the mitochondria involved in energy production (termed complex I). This new finding may contribute to the skeletal muscle pain experienced by patients with heart failure during exercise."

Claire said: “My summer studentship has allowed me to undertake some complex experiments and has given me a great insight into what PhD research is like. The experience has definitely reaffirmed my aspirations for a career in research. It has been an excellent experience that has allowed me to develop laboratory, analytical and interpersonal skills, which I know will help me in my future career in research.”

“In addition to my own project, I was able to experience experiments being carried out by PhD students in the group, including oxygen consumption tests on patients with chronic heart failure. Studies like this clearly show the reasons why we need to investigate how heart failure affects skeletal muscle and can help improve patient quality of life in future.”

“Whilst taking part in my vacation studentship I also got the chance to attend The Physiological Society annual conference with my research group. I really enjoyed this experience and there were many interesting talks, some which were relevant to my project and some of which were of general interest to me. Many of these talks were very inspiring as they were given by leading experts in their field.”

Undertaking a summer vacation studentship is a good opportunity for students to learn more about independent research and PhD study.

The Wellcome Trust was established in 1936 as an independent charity funding research to improve human and animal health.