Elaine Emmerson

Innovation fellow & Research group leader, The MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh


Don't be afraid to ask questions and to search for support.

What do you do?

I am a scientist and lead a team investigating how to regenerate damaged organs. Unlike animals such as the starfish, we humans are unable to regrow bits of our bodies when they’re damaged. My job involves looking at how the body grows in the first place, and then thinking of new ways to try and fix organs when they’ve been injured.

Why did you choose this field?

I am particularly interested in the damage that occurs when someone has radiotherapy to treat cancer. Unfortunately, while this treatment is often successful at treating the tumour, a severe side-effect is damage to other bits of the body. My father was diagnosed with head and neck cancer when I was 22, and following this I became determined to work towards a regenerative strategy for such patients.

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

I have struggled with anxiety for most of my adult life. I only recently opened up to my friends about what an impact this was having on me. To my surprise many of them reciprocated by confessing their own mental health issues. I also wish I’d asked for help earlier, there was no judgement, just support. I am very lucky to have a wonderful network of friends and family.

Why do you love working in STEM?

Because there is no such thing as a typical day. My job includes being hands-on in the lab, teaching the next generation of scientists and talking to doctors and patients about what our findings mean for the future. It has involved travelling to some amazing places to present my research and gave me the chance to live and work in San Francisco, something I will always be thankful for.

Best advice for next generation?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to search for support. But above all, be confident in yourself.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

I have a number of role models, but Dr Valerie Horsley is a prominent one for me. She leads a very successful lab at Yale University in the US, investigating how organs develop and regenerate, while also running for State Senate. And if that weren’t enough, she’s a Mum too!

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