Alzheimer Researcher

Qualifications

Scottish Highers

Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, German, English

Scottish Advanced Highers (equivalent to A level)

Maths, Physics, Chemistry

Degree

MPhys Physics

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Mary investigates changes in the iron in our brains to see if they could be an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.

‘My PhD research project is multidisciplinary which means that I get to apply the skills and knowledge I gained during my physics degree while solving biological and medical problems. It also means that I get the opportunity to work with scientists from a wide range of backgrounds and meet a lot of really interesting people.’

Mary’s research is important because there is currently no conclusive test for Alzheimer’s disease until after death. ‘I compare the concentration and distribution of iron in the brain tissue donated to medical research from people who died with a normal brain with those who had Alzheimer’s disease. I also image these samples with MRI – a non-invasive medical imaging technique – to see how the changes in iron affect the images and whether this could be useful as a diagnostic test in living patients.’

Working in a multidisciplinary area of research has its challenges ‘Good communication skills are vital for working with such a broad range of people. I have to explain my research from my point of view and at the same time listen to, and understand, the position of researchers with other backgrounds.’ But it also has its rewards such as taking the lead in an experiment at the Diamond Light Source.

Mary has no doubt that taking physics at A-level and university is a good option. ‘It has given me many useful and transferable skills and allowed me to work in many areas of science that I wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to,’ she says.

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