Dr Catriona Cunningham

Research fellow
University of Manchester, UK

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I love that I have freedom to work on what I’m really interested in.

What do you do?

I use stem cells to try and repair the injured brain after stroke. Rather than using the stem cells to replace cells that die after stroke, I use them as mini factories to make proteins and growth factors which can encourage the brain to repair itself.

Why did you choose this field?

I’ve always really liked puzzles and to me the brain was the biggest, most complex puzzle there is. What motivated me to work on cell therapies for brain repair was when I was studying medicine at university. I learnt how limited treatment options were for stroke and felt frustrated seeing doctors having to say to patients that there wasn’t much they could do.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

I think my biggest achievement is finishing top of my class in my BSc in Neuroscience. I was studying medicine as my undergraduate degree and did what’s called an intercalated BSc where you can take a year out and got into the final year of a science degree. It was an immensely steep learning curve but I’m proud of myself for working so hard and not being afraid to ask for help. I had an amazing year and came to the realisation that I was much more passionate about research than being a doctor. Now five years later, I’ve just graduated from my PhD and haven’t ever regretted my decision to change career paths.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love that I have freedom to work on what I’m really interested in. I also like that I’m constantly learning new things and solving problems.

Best advice for next generation?

Work hard and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

I love Snapchat for spamming my friends with photos of my cat, Marzipan

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