Thursday, 6 March 2014

Inside story: Dr Elaine Thomas - School of Biochemistry

Interview by Melissa Levy

Dr Elaine Thomas is a lecturer for the school of Biochemistry, as well as a researcher alongside Linda O'Flaherty and Jeremy Tavaré.  The group looks mainly at the regulation of glucose uptake by insulin and protein kinase signalling in lung cancer and glioma. If you want more information about what they do, click here.

Q. Where did you go to university and what did you study?
“I went to the University of Queensland in Australia and I studied a bachelor in science and majored in biochemistry and molecular cell biology… In the first year it was quite broad; I did some basic biology and biochemistry, we did some plant biology and human biology and then it was only in the second year we then started doing the majoring and I did biochemistry. I did my (masters) project on the sorting nexins (work that Pete Cullen in does now in the same department)… that was before anything was known about the sorting nexins…  [And we] developed some main concepts about the human retinol complexes and distribution of those proteins.”

See below for information about sorting nexins!

Q. How did you get from there to working here at Bristol?
“So after my honours I actually worked as a technician in a lab that was interested in insulin signalling and I worked on a protein called RNS1. But at the same time there was a project about a protein called RMPDH which was found to be phosphorylated in response to insulin and was recruited to lipid droplets…I found that really quite interesting! I then went overseas for about a year and a half…did some travelling, worked in a ski resort town - it was essentially a gap year whilst working. I also worked in a research lab in London for a little bit. I did my PhD (back in Australia) on IMPDH in the same lab that I had been in. The project changed focus, as PHD projects usually do, and then I guess during my time there I became interested in insulin signalling and GLUT4 biology. And so I came over here after my PhD and started working on the protein TBC1D1 in Jeremy’s (Professor Jeremy Tavaré) lab. So I’ve been sort of interested in energy homeostasis for a while and I guess of different mechanisms and the regulation of proteins that are involved in these processes.”

Q. How would you describe your typical day as a researcher/lecturer?
**laughing** “Tricky! I do quite a lot of cell culture, so I suppose Monday’s are setting up cells for experiments during the week, then we might have a lab meeting where we discuss what’s going on in the lab, then I have tutorials sort of scattered around during the week …. Might need to do some project solving for my work and also talking with other people in the lab…also analysing data.

Q. Do you like the fact that you are a tutor and lecturer as well as the fact that you do research?
“I do enjoy it! It can be a struggle getting the time management right, but I have enjoyed the lecturing as well as the tutorials because … I find it quite rewarding interacting with the students, and it gives a wider perspective on the work that I’m doing: the lectures that I give are on GLUT4 translocation and so it kind of shows the bigger picture and hopefully makes me a better scientist.”

Q. What advice would you give to someone looking to have a career in science?
"Follow what you enjoy and what you’re good at!"

Q.  If you could do research with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?
(After much deliberation) “I’m torn between some of the people who did the seminal molecular biology projects, Watson and Crick and Mary Curie, versus the people like Matthias Mann you know Mr Proteomics… Probably one of the seminal scientists like Crick!”

Some of the areas of science covered in this interview: 

- Sorting nexins are a large group of proteins that are localized in the cytoplasm and have the potential for membrane association either through their lipid-binding PX domain (a phospholipid-binding motif) or through protein-protein interactions with membrane-associated protein complexes. Some members of this family have been shown to facilitate protein sorting.

- Glucose transporter type 4, also known as GLUT4, is a protein that in humans is encoded by the GLUT4 gene. GLUT4 is the insulin-regulated glucose transporter found primarily in adipose tissues and striated muscle (skeletal and cardiac) that is responsible for insulin-regulated glucose transport into the cell.