Pharmacology students research effects of ageing on muscles and nerves

Third year pharmacology undergraduates, Aarthi Girithananda and Rebecca Robertson have spent the summer doing a studentship with Professor Anne McArdle in the University’s Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease.

Here we ask them about their current research project and experience of the studentship:

Let’s start with your current research project. Can you tell us a little bit about it?

We are researching the effects of ageing on muscle and nerves. Our supervisor has hypothesised that there is a chemical pathway that acts when muscles are contracting which releases packages of proteins called exosomes. These exosomes target nerves to protect them from stress. Our projects are looking at different proteins contained in these exosomes and whether nerves take them up. When we age, this exosome release pathway is weakened which we think could be a factor in causing frailty in elderly people.

When do you aim to complete the research by?

We aim to have our research completed by the end of the 6-8 week project.

Once the project is complete, what will happen with the research?

Our supervisors will be carrying on the research to be able to publish a scientific paper.

Tell us about how you secured the studentship?

We received an email advertising the studentships, and met with Professor Anne McArdle to discuss her research and ideas. We applied for funding from different institutes, and were both successful.

How did you feel when you found out you had secured the studentship?

We felt excited to do something different with our summer and pleased we got the funding.

How have you found the project so far? What has been the highlight?

We have found the project interesting and learned new skills that will help us with our third year project. Our key highlight was when we found that muscles released exosomes as hypothesised, therefore allowing us to continue further with our research.

Has anything surprised you about the project?

We were surprised about how much independence we have been given which has allowed us to be more confident in the lab. We started off with supervision, learning the techniques before we were then trusted to work by ourselves.

We have never worked on our own projects before, and only ever done one off lab experiments. All our previous work had followed set protocols which definitely worked. However the work we are doing now is all brand new research so there are no protocols to follow.

Have you seen the University in a different light as a researcher, compared to being at the University as a student?

It’s been really helpful to see the work life of a researcher. The time isn’t always spent working in the lab. The researchers spend a lot of time in the office too, discussing with supervisors the next steps, and planning the experiments as it is brand new, exciting research.

We are really grateful for this opportunity and have learnt so much from it. Our supervisors have put a lot of time and effort into making sure we got the most out of our studentships and we appreciate all the help from them.

What would your advice be to other students who are interested in undertaking a studentship like yours?

We would recommend it but our advice would be to make sure you’re interested in the research you’d be doing, as we have friends who are doing projects that they don’t find as appealing.

Has the research project changed your expectations of the future?

We feel a lot more confident about undertaking a master’s degree because we have enjoyed working in the lab environment.

If you were to describe the experience in 3 words, what words would you choose?

Rewarding, interesting and fun.