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Thursday 20 October 2022

Hattie Ellis, Laboratory Technician, explains how studying for an MSc in Precision Medicine helped her in her career to transform healthcare.

Hattie works with a team in the field of precision medicine, which involves examining the genomic makeup of a large sample of people and looking for patterns in the data which can help in determining an appropriate diagnosis or treatment for a range of conditions. We asked her about how she got started in precision medicine.

What attracted you to working in precision medicine? 

My route into precision medicine started at the end of my undergraduate degree in Pharmacology.  I had always been interested in how drugs work, hence my choice of degree, however a lecture about Precision Medicine was a lightbulb moment for me.  It made me think differently and see how treatments relying on specific genes of a patient could transform their care.   It struck me that this is the direction in which medicine should be going.  I am delighted that in the five years since I graduated, I am working on projects that use genomic data to help create the right treatments at the right time for patients.   

How did you discover PMS-IC?

My fast-track into this field started with a meeting about an MSc in Precision Medicine as I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow. I was particularly interested in the MSc programme as it included a project placement. The chance to work in a research laboratory on a research project was a game changer for me. 

Collaboration is a key element of the course as it is delivered across five universities I was taught modules by experts in their particular specialism from across Scotland. This was a fantastic opportunity to broaden my learning experience as I had previously only ever studied in Glasgow.

Interestingly, there are also a wide choice of modules in business and innovation as well as life sciences. These modules made up two thirds of the course, so you could tailor your MSc towards science research or business.

I was pleased to be accepted on the course and my cohort were mostly students with backgrounds in Chemistry, Pharmacy or Life Sciences and joined directly after completing their undergraduate studies. However, students also joined from industry who had decided to come back to study. 

What was your first PMS-IC project?

My research project during the course took place jointly between PMS-IC and the BHF Glasgow Cardiovascular Research Centre, a part University of Glasgow Institute of Cardiovascular & Medical Sciences. It involved looking for a particular gene in six strains of rat models used in cardiovascular research. I worked at every part of the sequencing process from start to finish. This required extracting DNA, amplifying the gene of interest, preparing samples for sequencing and using cutting edge equipment to sequence the gene and finally analysing the data to look for mutations. 

The sequencing platform I used was a MinION by Oxford Nanopore Technologies, a machine the size of an office stapler. It was amazing to see something so small and portable able to analyse the order of bases in a person’s DNA. This data provides an invaluable resource for potential future tests and targeted treatments to treat people with certain cardiovascular conditions. 

What did you most enjoy about studying and research in this field? 

The part of my MSc I enjoyed the most was this research project. It allowed me to work in academic research teams and understand the relationship between academia and industry. I got to know a lot of people and was fortunate a vacancy became available as a Laboratory Technician at PMS-IC as I was completing my MSc and I was successful in getting the job. 

My responsibilities and role is changing, and I am currently working on a part-time secondment to the NHS Genetics lab. Part of it involves helping to validate new clinical genetic tests for cancer patients. For the rest of the time, I work at PMS-IC where I am currently involved in the sputum sample processing for asthma clinical trials. The information we collect from these tissue samples could really help future treatments for people living with debilitating asthma symptoms. 

Can you describe what it’s like working in a busy lab? 

Working in a lab is varied and sometimes you can feel just a tiny part in a huge project.

However, being involved in Precision Medicine is about playing a really important and crucial role. You are in a team working to realise the full potential and benefits of Precision Medicine with partners in academia, industry and the NHS. It takes a team effort and is made possible by collaborative work, bringing people with different skills together. 

What would you say to anyone considering doing a similar MSc? 

The MSc gives you a deeper understanding of precision medicine and how innovative ideas develop into real life solutions.  Your research project can open up many avenues and help you move into your preferred career choice. It’s exciting times and I see my skills in pharmacology and precision medicine as playing a key role in helping patients to be treated more accurately and effectively.