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Sarah Thomas

would like to thank everybody that has given me votes so far - I really appreciate it!

Favourite Thing: I just love working in the lab! I’m a really practical person and I like working with my hands. Also it’s fun working in the lab with lots of different chemicals and equipment – you can’t always predict what’s going to happen!!

My CV

School:

Arbroath High School, Scotland, 1998-2004

University:

Masters in Medicinal and Biological Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, 2004-2009

Work History:

I worked as a Peptide Scientist for Almac Sciences before I started my PhD.

Employer:

University of Edinburgh, School of Chemistry. And my research is funded by Cancer Research UK.

Current Job:

I am doing a PhD in Bio-Organic Chemistry. I also work in the teaching labs on Tuesdays, teaching the 1st year students how to do their experiments. And I am doing a scholarship in Science Communication, creating and running science workshops in schools and at festivals.

Me and my work

I’m studying Cancer and how it grows, and working towards a diagnostic blood test that will help us detect it in the early stages.

I’m from Scotland and I’ve been living in Edinburgh for 7 years. I’m 25 years old, I have a puppy called Banjo, I like motorbikes and music, and I’m doing a PhD in Cancer Research. Here is a picture of Banjo. He is a labradoodle.

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I’ve learnt a lot about cancer, how people get it and about treatments such as chemotherapy so feel free to ask me anything. I’ve lost people I care about to cancer and my research means a lot to me.

For the past 2 years I have been making chemicals that we can use as tools to help us study cancer and understand it better. I’ve been using lots of different dyes and fluorescence, and trying different ways to “tag” biomolecules so we can discover what they really do in a person’s body. The biomolecules I study are made of sugar, and it’s funny because most people think of their bodies as being made of protein but actually sugars are one of the main building blocks for life! Even your DNA contains sugar molecules.

I’m hoping that my research could lead to a diagnostic blood test to catch people that have cancer in the early stages, to get them treated as soon as possible. In many cases, cancer can spread in someone’s body without them knowing it and by the time they get really ill it can be too late to give them effective treatment.

I am studying these chemicals that are present in tumours in really high concentrations. They are called growth factors and they cause the cancer to grow and spread really quickly. These growth factors leak out of the tumour and float down the person’s bloodstream. Scientists sometimes call them “Tumour Biomarkers”. I’m trying to make a dye and when it recognises the Biomarker, it will become fluorescent. So all the doctor will have to do, is add my dye to the patient’s blood sample and if it glows, then this means the patient has cancer. So hopefully this will be a really quick and easy test to help catch cancer early!

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This is a picture of a lung cancer cell under the microscope! Lung cancer is one fo the most agressive cancers and spreads quickly through the person’s body. Lung cancer is the biggest killer in this country and it’s a shame because 90% of all lung cancers is caused by smoking.

Here are links to my research video that I made last week. It’s available on youtube and vimeo. If you can’t access these websites, please ask your teacher!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FG3EMByh11g

My Typical Day

I work in the lab every day, trying out new experiments and ideas.

I get up at 7 am and go for a walk or a jog with my puppy Banjo. I’ve been training for a run that I’m doing on the 19th of June called the Race For Life. It’s to fundraise for Cancer Research UK who sponsor my work and also it’s my way of saying “thank you” to all the amazing people who fundraise for Cancer Research and pay for research like mine. I literally couldn’t do my work without them, and it’s good inspiration to keep me motivated and work hard.

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I ride my motorbike to work and try to get there for around 10 am. Then I get my lab coat on, my safety specs, some gloves, roll up my fumehood window, turn the light on and get started!

I usually put a reaction on first thing in the morning and monitor its progress throughout the day. I try to take breaks at 11 am, 1 pm and 3pm. But sometimes I get caught up in my work and skip them. I make ‘To Do’ lists and tick things off as I do them and if there’s anythying left at the end of the day, that’s where I start the next day.

I monitor my reactions by NMR (which is the same idea as an MRI scan). Basically it involves putting your samples into a magnet the size of a small elephant! You have to be careful if you are wearing metals because they can stick to the magnet!!

At the end of the day, I freeze-dry my samples. People use freeze driers to dry food to take into space and also it’s how they make coffee granules. The freeze drier works by sucking all the water out of your samples with a vacuum. But first you have to freeze it with liquid nitrogen which is about -196 degrees C. It’s so cold that if it touches your skin for too long it can give you a nasty cold burn.

In the evenings, I hang out with my friends and Banjo. Work can be stressful so it’s good to chill out! My house is seriously messy because I hardly ever clean. When you work hard all day, the last thing you want to do when you get home is do the dishes! I usually get home around 6 pm but sometimes I work late.

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What I'd do with the money

I would use it to pay for materials for Cancer Research workshops that I run in schools and at Science Festivals.

So I’m doing a scholarship in Science Communication where I go to Science Festivals (like the Edinburgh International Science Festival) and secondary schools and run workshops and activities about the work that I do.

http://www.sciencefestival.co.uk/

Cancer has affected so many families and it means a lot to me to go and meet people and teach them about Cancer and Cancer Research. Especially because a lot of people donate to Cancer Research UK and they have no idea that their money goes to pay for chemicals and equipment in labs like mine. And research is really expensive. It costs £10 for a lab coat!

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In my workshop there are lots of hands-on activities for students to do including a fake blood test where the students get some fake blood samples and then they add my special dye. Then they can test their samples for fluorescence and diagnose their patients. You can watch this video if you would like to see how the experiment works:

I believe that these activities should be free to all and this means that I borrow the equipment from lots of different labs at the University and then pay for the rest of the materials myself. This means I can’t afford to run many workshops and for this reason I have only done 7 this year. I think that the prize money could help me run up to 50 more workshops in lots of different schools. Even things like colour printing can be really expensive when you add it all up but I want to be able to give the students things that they can take home with them so they can remember the workshop and tell their families about it.

I also want to turn my activities into an electronic resource that teachers can download so they can do these activities themselves in the classroom, and then students all over the country will be able to learn about Cancer Research.

Here is a picture of me at the Edinburgh International Science Festival in April, showing people what cancer cells look like under the microscope and how a biopsy works:

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Here are links to a demo of one of the experiments you can do in my workshop. It’s on youtube and vimeo – if you can’t access these websites, please ask your teacher!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Caring, motivated, hand-working

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Foo Fighters! (Fave song The Pretender) I grew up listening to bands like the Foo Fighters, Tenacious D, Muse and Nirvana. I like all kinds of music but I’m a little bit of an alternative rock chick at heart.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Probably getting a puppy! Banjo is 5 months old now and he’s pretty insane but he’s just so much fun to have around. He loves swimming and will chase ANYTHING but not necessarily always bring it back! He’s just so funny and excitable. I taught him to Hi-5 which is pretty awesome and now whenever he meets people he sits down and puts his paw up like “come on dude, don’t leave me hanging!”

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1) I’d wish that my research would actually work and that it helped save lives. 2) That one day I could live in a house in the countryside where I’d have a massive garden and loads of chickens (I already have 4 chickens, they are kind of addictive!). 3) I think my final wish would be to be happy and less stressed forever more!

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wanted to do Cancer Research. It’s so funny that that’s what I’ve actually ended up doing! I decided to go to uni and study medicinal chemistry and I thought that if I didn’t end up in Cancer Research, I would do drug discovery instead.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Ha ha! Yes! I got into trouble for chatting and being late for class. And I was always getting into trouble in Chemistry class. I once set fire to my desk in Chemistry, but it was an accident! I loved Chemistry and just got a little over-enthusiastic sometimes!!

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I made a compound that had never been made in the whole world before! It’s chemical name is 2,2,5,5-tetramethylpyrrolinoxyl hydrazide but I’m going to come up with a more interesting name for it!

Tell us a joke.

What do you call cheese that doesn’t belong to you? … Nacho Cheese!