Growing up in a village south of Manchester in the UK, Gemma Little never had any interest in medical research. She never imagined she’d one day be interning at a leading research facility on the other side of the world in Sydney, Australia.
But while studying Biomedical Science at the University of Reading in Berkshire, Gemma was placed in a cardiovascular research group for her third-year project, working on imaging platelet protein dynamics during activation. This project would enable a more thorough understanding of how platelet activation occurs and could be beneficial with regards to designing therapeutic targets.
“I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it so much. A lot of people had told me, ‘Oh, it’s really stressful doing a research project. It’s horrible.’ But I didn’t want to hand my project in at the end because there was so much more I wanted to do on it.”
So when the opportunity came to continue research work with the Thombrosis Group at the HRI facilities in Sydney, Gemma didn’t need to think twice.
The Thrombosis Group, led by Professor Shaun Jackson, investigates how blood clots form and what worsens them to a state which can lead to heart attacks and stroke. The work has been an enlightening experience for Gemma.
“Even just seeing what other people are working on, listening to their ideas, and seeing how their brains work, was inspiring.”
Gemma worked closely with the STORM system for super-resolution microscopy to examine blood clots. “It was great to work with the team who know all the nitty gritty parts of this system’s engineering. Before I came to the HRI, I never even dared understand how these things work.”
It’s an experience that will give Gemma a head start as she returns to the UK to start a PhD on the interactions of collagen-binding proteins like platelets. “At the HRI, we took the microscopy protocol I had used in the UK and the protocol a colleague had developed at Harvard in the USA, then worked through how they’d come up with the final protocol. That was fantastic, getting tips from the team that actually developed this incredible system, as I’ll be using this sort of technique in my PhD.”
But Australia hasn’t seen the last of Gemma.