MCF Sponsored Student
W Bro Adrian Fox catches up with our MCF sponsored research student, Samuel Bryce-Smith.
I’m around halfway through my 3-year PhD studentship at University College London (UCL) – which has been funded by the London Freemasons’ Charity.
Prior to my PhD, I did an integrated Master’s degree in Biochemistry at the University of Sheffield, graduating in July 2019 with a 1st class degree.
Nowadays, my research focuses on understanding the causes behind motor neuron disease (MND). MND is a particularly cruel and ultimately fatal disease that affects motor neurons, the cells that connect our brain to our muscles and carry messages to tell our muscles to move. We currently lack effective treatments and a cure for MND, so research into what causes the disease is especially important so that we can find targets to develop more effective treatments.
This is one of the main reasons I feel very privileged to have the support from London Freemasons to contribute to this fight. I can only imagine how much effort went into fundraising to allow my studentship to be funded. It may also be that for some of the members, there may have been a personal connection to the disease. The fact that I can also study at a fantastic university and experience as great a city as London makes the deal so much sweeter!
I study the protein TDP-43, which has been found to be affected in the vast majority (> 95 %) of MND patients. TDP-43 is involved in producing RNAs, the ‘recipes’ our cells use as instructions to make proteins – the workers of our cells.
Ribonucleic acid (RNA) is a molecule similar to DNA. However, unlike DNA, RNA is single-stranded.
I focus on studying changes to the ends of RNAs. These regions don’t contain instructions to make protein but often contain ‘postcode’ sequences that deliver the RNAs to certain parts of the cell, so proteins can be produced where they are needed to do their jobs. This process is especially important in motor neurons, which can stretch to up to 1m long. Recently, I’ve also been investigating whether RNAs end much earlier than expected when TDP-43 is affected. This would mean that the RNA recipes are cut short and don’t contain all of the instructions needed to make the full protein. The partial protein may therefore no longer be able to do its normal job.
Outside of work, I’m very much into my sport. I dabble in a lot of things, although football has been in my life since I could walk. I’ve also been getting really into tennis in the past few years. I grew up in the countryside of Kent in a big family (I have three other siblings) and like to make the short train journey back home on a frequent basis to catch up and escape the city – though mum would say not frequent enough! Now that things are starting to open up, I definitely plan to make up for lost time and explore London over the next year and a half – any recommendations on places to visit, restaurants, and pubs would be much appreciated! (feel free to email Arena, we will pass it on).