A late introduction into the mind of a new PhD student

Howdy Hey Blogareenos! I’m Liam (the tiger from previous blog posts) and I have recently started my PhD with the Hamill lab, where my project looks at the role of LN domains in basement membrane integrity and signalling. Much like Conro, this isn’t my first rodeo in the Hamill lab, but it is my first year as a PhD student. Over the past year, Dr Hamill was my supervisor for a 9 month MRes project (and for some reason, he decided to keep me!)

Squad Goals! The Sunscreen challenge OG Team. From Left to right: Your very own tiger, Conro, Lee and the Big boss man!

So a bit of background. It seems as though I shall never escape Liverpool or its University. I completed a 3 year undergraduate in Biochemistry, where I experienced “real” research for the first time. During my third year dissertation, I spent 12 weeks investigating the effects of oxidation on a number of anti-cancer therapeutics, such as Cetuximab and Rituximab. How very Biochemistry! During my undergraduate degree, I also completed a 3 month summer placement in the lab of Dr Dada Pisconti, where the team were investigating the role of serpin B1 in Duschenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Following my 3 years in Liverpool, I very clearly fancied a change. So I went straight back to Liverpool to complete an MRes. This was when I was introduced to the world of laminins and LaNts (and poor Kevin was introduced to the world of me)! I was part of a 9 month project in the Hamill Lab investigating the potential of peptides to disrupt laminin polymerisation (see some cool images below!) It was during this time that I realised my love for the world of matrix biology, and I was lucky enough to get a place on this current PhD programme, funded by the BBSRC DTP for Durham-Newcastle-Liverpool (Try saying that 5 times really fast!)

A spoiler free selection of some of the coolest LAMA3 and LAMC1 staining from my MRes project!

And that led me to here. I’m 1 month and 22 days into my PhD (at the time of writing) and I couldn’t be more excited! One of the key processes in early basement membrane formation is the assembly of the laminin network, through the N-terminal domains of laminin. But besides their role in polymerisation of laminin, not much else is known about the laminin N-terminal (or LN) domains. There is clinical evidence of these domains being absolutely vital as well, with mutations in the LN domain resulting in numerous nasty diseases such as muscular dystrophy (LAMA2) and Pierson Syndrome (LAMB2). During my project, I will use the disease Pierson syndrome as a model to investigate the roles of the LN domains, and how these roles are compromised in the diseased phenotype. One particularly cool aspect of my project is the potential it has to open up the door for future stem cell research! The laminins I will mainly be focussing on during my project are LM511 and LM521, which have been shown to play an important part in stem cell maintenance. So the potential to investigate one of the key events in matrix biology is something that really excites me!

Pierson Syndrome, a disease caused by the mutation of LM β2’s LN domain, which results in glomerular dysfunction and ocular malformation, as shown above. Source: Zenker, et al. 2004.

Outside of the lab (yes I do sometimes leave, contrary to popular belief), I was part of the now award winning Sunscreen Challenge as part of Team Hamill’s Meet the Scientist outreach event, and I plan on taking it to a high school in Durham in the near future. I was also lucky enough to attend a number of super cool conferences including the ‘Assembly, Dynamics and Organisation of Filaments and Cellular Responses’ workshop in Durham, and the recent CCI workshop at Liverpool, where Dr Teng-Leong Chew of Janelia Farm gave a particularly amazing talk into super microscopy! Outside the lab AND science, I’ll continue playing and coaching table tennis to keep me sane during my PhD (if you’re interested in lessons, hit me up)!

Some extracurricular activities: Left to right – Lee and Conro getting hands on experience with children’s entertaining at the Sunscreen Challenge in May. The amazing ‘Assembly, Dynamics and Organisation of Filaments’ workshop at Durham University, hosted by the wonderful Uncle Roy (my third and Durham based Supervisor). Shameless evidence that I do actually play table tennis, with the lads from Crosby’s Southport and Lancashire League and Cup double winning side from September 2017.

The next four years are looking very exciting. The team, as well as the atmosphere in the lab in general, are all fantastic and like no lab I’ve worked in before. I’m lucky to be working in a field that I am so interested in, and can’t wait for the opportunity to contribute to the field myself!

Also, I will beat Conro in the lab wars lab wars by any means necessary, his 1-0 lead means nothing. As a Liverpool fan, I know a 1-0 lead is meaningless.


Thanks for reading!

Liam (aka, Chocolate thunder bear)


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