Leah's Blog / Meet the Students

Meet the Student – Leah Fitzsimmons

Who are you?

I’m Leah, a PhD student and technician in the School of Cancer Sciences. I have been working on my doctoral degree for 3 years, and I hope to complete it within the next 18 months. I also obtained my undergraduate degree from Birmingham in Medical Biochemistry.

What do you do?

My work focuses on understanding the role of viruses in cancer. The first virus to be associated with human cancer was Epstein-Barr virus, or EBV, which is the virus I study. However, we now know that viruses may play a role in as many as 20% of all cancers. Therefore, if we can improve our understanding of the mechanisms which viruses employ to promote tumour formation and growth we may be able to develop new drugs and therapies to counteract this. Specifically, my project is concerned with how EBV can protect B lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) from cell death, which enables mutated cells, which are normally killed, to persist and grow uncontrollably to form tumours.

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

I have what can only be described as an unhealthy interest in bugs… Insects can be unpleasant, but I mean the kind that are very small, and sometimes pretty nasty. Whether it be emerging viruses: like newly discovered arenaviruses of snakes which are causing widespread fatalities, bacteria: which we now know can mutate so quickly that we can use their gene sequences to track and better treat drug-resistant infections, or parasites: like toxoplasma which can influence behaviour and cause people to take more risks!

 What else are you interested in?

Before deciding to pursue science I was a restaurant manager, and before that I sang in a rock band, so you could say that my interests are quite varied. I still like to do the occasional gig (more folk these days though) and keep up the cooking and cocktail-making too. Otherwise I keep busy rock climbing, sewing, going to gigs and festivals or watching bad horror movies.

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

I have a secret passion for the social history of science and particularly the development of medical ethics, as this moulds how science moves forwards and how we use scientific discoveries to ultimately try to improve lives, so I am most excited about ‘An Evening with Bill Bryson’. Although often billed as a travel writer I think Bryson is better described as a social commentator and his book, ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’, which tells the human story of the history of scientific discovery, is completely fascinating and accessible even to those with no scientific knowledge.  I will also be geeking out at ‘Parasites and Me’, considering the complex ethical debates around assisted suicide at ‘Showing Mercy or License to Kill’ and having a post-apocalyptic wine or two at the ‘End of the World Party’.