Michael Schrauben, the John Slate Scholar

PhD Medical Studies

Since I last updated you, it is fair to say that Biomedical research and a national lockdown don’t exactly go hand in hand, but where there’s a will there's a way.

The last time I updated you on the progress of this project, we had our work cut out for us and looked optimistic towards the future. However, when the first quarantine period began, so did the closure of the laboratory facilities. We were forced to halt all experiments until further notice and continued our meetings online over Zoom. Although it seemed like the project came to a screeching halt, I was determined to keep things going and invested the majority of my time in developing new skills. From programming and coding to illustrations and presentations (pictured), the work-from-home situation had some positive outcomes and I can confidently say that I’ve learnt a great many things during this time. Consequently, I put these newly found skills to work during the Upgrade process in which I presented my project to my peers and defended its contents in front of a panel of judges. I successfully passed the Upgrade and the college has approved my transfer from an MPhil degree to a PhD, thereby substantiating the achieve-ability of the project’s scope and my ability to realise its goals.

Once the lockdown had started to ease, the laboratory reopened and experiments could begin anew. We adjusted certain elements of our experimental pipeline, which gave us more control over how we deliver our gene editing tools to the human cells we work with. Furthermore, we successfully targeted the non-mutation based change to genes called ‘Methylation’ in these cells and validated our modification at the DNA level. Thus, we intend to scale up these experiments in the coming year and investigate the resulting behavioural changes in the modified cells to understand the mechanisms behind neurodegeneration.

2020 has been a challenging year and science has been impeded by the COVID-19 crisis significantly. Nonetheless, we have tried our best to persevere and continue working on the puzzle that is dementia and neurodegeneration. Our current experimental results are encouraging and we are enthusiastic about the future.

Thank you for your understanding John, and I am certain that I will have more exciting progress to report in 2021 and look forward to sharing this with you.

Thank you again for your support.