Beckie's Blog / Meet the Students

Meet the student – Beckie Port

Who are you?

My name is Beckie. I’m in my third year of a PhD in the School of Cancer Sciences at Birmingham University funded by Cancer Research UK.

What do you do?

My project looks at how cell signalling, the communication between cells, gets altered in cancer. I also look at how Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) infection, the kissing disease virus that causes mononucleosis, is involved in this change. I am particularly interested in how cells communicate through the “Hedgehog” signalling pathway. The hedgehogs I research are not cute, spikey, little mammals but instead are protein molecules in the cell; one of these proteins is even called Sonic Hedgehog – proving that scientists are big kids at heart. My research has shown that too much Hedgehog signalling, which can be induced by EBV infection, can cause certain cancer cells to grow out of control and I am keen to see if switching off Hedgehog signalling in cancer could stop tumour growth and be a new way of targetting a number of different cancers.

Outside your research field what other science are you interested in?

Neuroscience and cosmology. I think neuroscience is fascinating, our brains are so amazingly complex and we are only scratching the surface of understanding how it all works. In fact it is incredible that we are even intelligent enough to wonder how our brains work. Unlike the heart or the kidneys you cannot look at a brain and work out what each bit does, there is no pump, no filter, no moving part. We learn what different areas do by what happens when that area gets damaged and by associating activity in different parts of the brain with different consequences. Scientists can also map the micro-structural properties of the brain and try to understand how neurons, the individual unit of the brain, work to provide us with memories, thoughts and emotions, and keeping our bodies ticking. I find cosmology equally as incredible, how scientists can map out the sky in three dimensions despite the Universe expanding in every direction, how we now know the Universe is filled with dark matter althought we cannot see it, and theorising the presence of dark energy to account for the fact the Universe is still expanding. Mind-blowing!

What else are you interested in?

I love demonstrating science to people both in and out the lab; taking experiments down to the ThinkTank museum for “Meet the Scientist” events and showing people around our lab at the Cancer Research UK center in Birmingham. I don’t think enough people get to see what we are doing; scientists are mystery people kept locked in their labs away from public view. I would love more people to get involved in science and be excited about all the weird and wonderful things that scientists around the world are discovering every single day.

Outside the lab I play hockey and netball, I also fiddle about on the guitar every once in a while.

What event/lecture are you most looking forward to at the British Science Festival?

It would be so hard to choose one! I have already signed up for so many including the live screening of Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw talking about “The Quantum Universe”, “The Science of Sleep” and “Murder, Mystery and Microscopes” just to name a few. “In the blink of an eye: Attention and the Mind” will be really interesting, delving into the world of how our brain perceives the information it is presented with, and how it then makes sense of it to allow us to navigate through life.

Another event that has me on the edge of my seat is “The End of the World Party”, so very exciting! We can make glowing virus based sculptures, relive the Cold War, make and wear virus armour and try to survive a nuclear explosion. I shall be sure to post a few good photos of that evening.

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