Emma Bunting

PhD Student at the Department of Neurodegenerative Disease, UCL Institute of Neurology

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Don't be afraid to ask questions.

What do you do?

I'm a neuroscience PhD student. My research focuses on Huntington’s disease – an inherited condition that causes dementia, alongside uncontrollable 'dancing' limbs and psychological complications. It affects over 8000 people in the UK, yet there is still no cure.

It's caused by an unusually long stretch of DNA repeats within the ‘huntingtin’ gene, which lengthens throughout life, particularly in cells that are lost in the brain. I'm interested in a protein called MSH3, which seems to be involved in this process. To find out how, I grow patients' cells in a dish, and study how the protein behaves. Studies like mine aim to inform drug design, which could help to slow-down or even stop the disease dead in its tracks!

Why did you choose this field?

I've always been fascinated by the brain. It's such an incredibly complex organ that defines us as individuals as well as a species. With neurodegenerative diseases as the leading cause of disability in the elderly and rates of dementia on the rise, I became motivated to understand their causes. My ambition is to contribute to important discoveries that will inform the design of potential treatments, at a time when major breakthroughs are desperately needed.

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

I had no idea it was possible for science to be so exciting until I did my undergraduate research placement. I was lucky enough to get into Harvard Medical School for mine, where I investigated the aging brain. It's hard to convey in a classroom or lecture theatre how much fun doing your own research is, and how cool some of the things you're able to do as a scientist can be.

I now get to grow cells from human patients in a dish, and I can reprogramme them into any cell in the body depending on the questions I'm trying to ask. When I was younger, I don't think I knew techniques like this would ever be possible, let alone that I'd be the one doing them.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love trying to understand the way the world works, right down to the cellular and molecular level. In the lab, we're always working towards solving a mystery that has never been understood before - and the solution could improve thousands of lives. It's pretty exciting.

Best advice for next generation?

Don't be afraid to ask questions. They're how we learn, and sometimes those questions will feed into new ideas. And it's okay if there's no current answer too… that's where research comes in!

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein.

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