Interviews with Scientists: Christina Murray

6 years ago

Interviews with Scientists: Christina Murray

We’re so excited to share our latest Interviews with Scientists, in which we speak to the brilliant Christina Murray. Christina is a postdoctoral research associate at the UCL Dementia Research Institute and Queen Square Brain Bank, UCL Institute of Neurology.

Christina completed her undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences at University of Southampton and, from there, took a post at Queen Square Brain Bank, UCL Institute of Neurology as a research technician working on a grant investigating early markers and progression in Parkinson’s Disease.

After four years in this post, Christina started her PhD at the same place, working under Dr Tammaryn Lashley. Christina’s PhD was funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK and titled: ‘The Role of TREM2 in Neurodegeneration’. Her research looked into the genetic risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, TREM2, in post-mortem brain tissue.

Christina has now submitted her thesis (congratulations!) and is awaiting her viva. In the meantime, she’s started a new post as a research associate funded by the UCL Dementia Research Institute, under Prof. Henrik Zetterberg and Dr Tammaryn Lashley to further understand how pathology can be used to find potential biomarkers in neurodegenerative tissue.

In addition to her research, Christina is active in public engagement, working as a PhD tutor for The Brilliant Club Scholars Programme and also as a Dementia Friend’s Champion, delivering sessions designed by Alzheimer’s Society.

Hi Christina! Great to talk to you! Firstly tell us more about your PhD...

My PhD was investigating a genetic risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), TREM2. TREM2 – or Triggering receptor expressed on myeloid cells 2 – is expressed on microglial cells and is known to be involved with inflammation. During my PhD, I compared post-mortem brains that had a TREM2 variant, with and without AD, to sporadic AD, familial AD, and neurologically normal controls. I looked at the pathology in these cases and their genetic and proteomic profiles.

Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger, and why?

I always had an interest in science, but at a young age I had no main focus. It was during my GCSEs that I realised I liked science more than my other subjects, particularly Biology. I actually aspired to be a doctor, and more specifically a surgeon. I liked how science shows us how everything works, and I was particularly interested in how all of the functions of the human body worked. I still find it fascinating to this day.

What made you want to pursue a career in your particular field?

As most of you are probably aware, getting into medical school is highly competitive and unfortunately I did not succeed. My back up option was to study Biomedical Science, which I did at University of Southampton. Up until second year, I still felt that I would go on to do postgraduate medicine. But when I completed my third year lab dissertation project, I realised that I actually really enjoyed working in the lab doing scientific research. After university, I didn’t have the confidence in my abilities to go straight into a PhD, so I sought out a research technician post to confirm that this was the right path for me.

What advice would you give to someone just starting their PhD?

Take a small amount of time at the beginning of your PhD to read about the research in the field you are going into. As I already worked in the lab I was doing my PhD in previously, I missed this step and found myself playing catch up later on with the reading. It may feel frustrating to not get straight into research, but having that background knowledge behind you will help when you are interpreting any results you get. My other advice is not put too much pressure on yourself right from the beginning.

What did you enjoy most about your PhD?

My favourite moment of my PhD was finishing my thesis. Writing was not my strong point, so having finished writing such a massive text was really satisfying and made me feel like I had achieved something big. The things I enjoyed most day to day was the variety that I had each day. Sometimes I would be analysing data, whereas other days I was in the lab. I think that is what keeps scientific research exciting.

Tell us a bit more about what you’re working on at the moment...

I have just started my new position as a post-doctoral research associate this month whilst I still wait to have my PhD viva. This is a really exciting time for me as this post is collaborative one between the UCL Dementia Research Institute, UCL Institute of Neurology, and UCL Institute of Child Health. I will be working on a number of small projects helping to bridge the gap between pathology and proteomics to look for biomarkers in a number of neurodegenerative diseases. I am just getting started on a few small projects at the moment whilst a larger project, most likely looking deeper into Alzheimer’s disease proteomics, is designed. I think working with all three groups will bring some new ideas and thoughts to the table and I’m looking forward to what we will find.

What does a typical day in the lab look like for you?

A typical day in the lab for me will either be staining thin sections of post-mortem brain tissue with different antibodies to detect different proteins using a technique called immunochemistry, or it will involve completing RNA/protein extractions in order to nanostring technology or run mass spectrometry. Occasionally I will also combine these techniques by laser-capture microdissecting some of the pathology to be run on a mass spectrometer, and assess the proteomics of this pathology.

If you weren’t a scientist, what do you think you’d be doing?

If I wasn’t a scientist I would like to go into teaching. I have been involved with The Brilliant Club, teaching extra-curricular material based on my research to pupils that are high achievers. This helps give them an idea what university will be like and the skills they need to get there. I have really enjoyed this, and have found it really encouraging to see what impact can be made. I hope to have a science career but also be involved in some teaching, starting with supervising students in the lab and hopefully progressing onto lecturing.

Outside the lab, what do you enjoy doing?

Outside the lab, I also have a fairly busy life but I like it that way. I have been a Brownie Guider for over 10 years and regularly play netball and squash. I’m lucky to have great friends and family so always like to spend time catching up with them too. Now that my PhD is over, I’m looking forward to picking up some other hobbies I used to have, such as reading fiction books.

What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?

Unfortunately, I have had the experience of seeing neurodegeneration first hand, so the thought that the research is moving forward and picking up momentum really excites me. Recently, more funding has gone into dementia research and there was a big discovery with a Huntington’s Disease trial. If we can find treatments, let alone a cure, for these diseases then it would just be so amazing for all the people affected.

What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing life scientists and their work?

I think the biggest challenge facing life scientists and their work at present is the lack of funding that there is to fund all the innovative ideas that are being thought of and applied for. Even with the new Dementia Research Institute that has been funded by the government there will still be many projects that are of good scientific principle but cannot get funded.

Which scientists working today do you most admire, and why?

I admire all scientists working today for persevering through a career that is not guaranteed, and is fairly unstable. I am really inspired by my supervisor and mentor Dr Tammaryn Lashley. She produces great science on frontotemporal dementia and manages to juggle working on many collaborative projects at once, whilst also keeping her many students happy and being a fantastic mum to her three children. If I can work as well as she can as I move forward in my career, then I will be happy.

What’s your favourite science quote?

“Nothing in life is to feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” – Marie Curie

What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?

I think the greatest discovery of all time is the discovery of DNA. It is so important for life and has been essential in understanding the human body and many human diseases.


Wow, what an inspiring interview! Christina, from all of us here at Hello Bio, we wish you the very best with your research and future career.

Follow Christina on Twitter @christina_9988

Follow ‘Team Tam’ on Twitter @lashleylab

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