Kamile Minkelyte recently joined the team at UCL through the nsif funded Geoffrey Raisman Fellowship. Kamile will spend 3-years completing her PhD which will work towards developing a model of spinal cord injury, using OECs and biomaterials. This work will advance our knowledge of the mechanisms involved in SCI and repair for the benefit of patients. The nsif team met up with Kamile to get to know her:
What is your background?
I completed my undergraduate degree in Pharmacology, which very much focused on microbiology. It was during this time that I realised I preferred working with mammalian cells as opposed to doing microbiology and I wanted to get more involved with in vitro work. I went on to do a master’s degree at Kings College London in Drug Discovery Skills, which is where I began to learn new and different techniques. As part of my master’s degree I completed a placement at GSK for 6 months, where I continued to develop a passion for a patient-focused approach to science and seeing how the work I was doing could be taken to the clinic. I continued to work at GSK after I completed my master’s, moving from immunology to the in vivo department as a microsurgeon, and researched how certain doses of drugs affect the body and developing doses for clinical applications. Although I enjoyed the work I was doing, I wanted to get back into an academic setting and began looking for PhDs that had a focus on patients which is why I applied for the Geoffrey Raisman Fellowship.
Can you provide a short summary of the work you will be doing during this PhD?
Initially, I will be learning how to do in vivo surgery to induce injury and test treatments to see whether any improvements are made to the loss of function. I will be working towards developing a reproducible model with consistent results of improvement. Following this, my work will focus on taking OECs from the mucosa and testing different concentrations with different biomaterials to find the best methods. This preliminary work will lay the foundations required ahead of working with human cells to ensure once these are obtained they aren’t wasted. Using this knowledge, together with the team at UCL, we will aim to develop a strategy for the use of mucosa cells that will be more applicable in a clinical setting in the UK.
What could the future implications of this project mean for people with spinal cord injuries?
The goal is to be able to use mucosa cells rather than cells taken from the olfactory bulb as this is a less invasive method of cell collection, and the mucosa cells are more accessible. The use of mucosa cells also makes the procedure more comfortable for the patient and removes the need to use drugs such as immunosuppressants which come with side effects.
Why are OECs considered to be special and what role do they play in finding a cure from paralysis from spinal cord injury?
OECs are special as they have the ability to bridge the gap between the Peripheral Nervous System (outside of the brain and spinal cord) and the Central Nervous System (the brain and spinal cord). The cells are versatile and are able to work through scar tissue and act as a bridge to restore the loss of function associated with a spinal cord injury.
What does a day in the lab look like for you?
There is no set day in the lab, it is always new and different, and no two days are alike. A day can go from reading papers to culturing cells to doing behavioural studies with animals. In research you never reach a point where you know everything; you are constantly learning and sharing ideas with others.
What do you feel is currently going well with the project?
My surgery training is going well, and I am learning about the work that has already been done, as well as getting my head around the anatomy. I’m also building experience in culturing OECs , which is something I haven’t done before, and am happy with my first batch of cultures.
We are very excited to have Kamile on board and look forward to updating you as her research progresses. Your donations mean that we are able to fund projects such as the Geoffrey Raisman Fellowship, and enable us to bring young scientists into the field of spinal cord injury research.