December 7th 2015 – Bill Sullivan, Indiana University School of Medicine

William SullivanHello, science enthusiasts! I am a Professor and Showalter Scholar at the Indiana University School of Medicine, where I study a protozoan (single-celled) parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. You may have heard about this fascinating “cat parasite” before – in addition to causing birth defects, and opportunistic infection in HIV/AIDS patients, the infection has been linked to neurological disorders such as schizophrenia and epilepsy. Amazingly, one third of the world is permanently infected with Toxoplasma, which is transmitted by cats or contaminated food/water. The parasite is presently incurable because it forms latent tissue cysts in the body, including the brain, that are not eliminated by our current drugs or the immune response. Since Toxoplasma camps out in the brain, a great deal of research has examined whether the infection alters host behavior. Remarkably, infected rodents lose their fear of cats and become sexually attracted to the smell of cat urine. This radical change in behavior transforms the infected rodent into an easy snack for the feline. From an evolutionary perspective, this is genius on the part of the parasite since it needs the cat to breed. But since Toxoplasma resides in the brains of billions of people, how might it be changing human behavior? I’ll be tweeting about Toxoplasma and other fascinating parasites that will make you think twice about the concept of free will!

You can learn more about Toxoplasma by reading, “Played by a Parasite”, a recent article we wrote for Scientific American. More information about my laboratory and our research can be found at our lab web site, www.sullivanlab.com.

I am also an advocate of science outreach and co-founded a popular science blog called THE ‘SCOPE in July 2014. The mission of THE ‘SCOPE is to use pop culture news and events as a springboard to discuss related topics in science. I have also written several articles for ASBMB Today, The Guardian, and The Posdoc Way, which contain career advice for young scientists – go here for a full list of my publications.

Follow me on Twitter.

October 12th 2015 – Tuula Eriksson, University College London

Tuula ErikssonI am just about to finish a PhD in tissue-engineered 3D tumour models at University College London (UCL). I did my undergrad in Molecular Biology at the University of Glasgow, which is where I stumbled upon on-going work on regenerative medicine constructs and tissue engineering. Along the way, I also did placements on cancer biology, e.g. at the Wellcome trust in Oxford.

One of my lecturers also held a really interesting short workshop on advanced microscopy techniques (advanced for undergrads who’d at that point only got to use light microscopes in the labs).

Based on these three fun aspects of my degree, I then decided to apply for an MSc in Regenerative Medicine at UCL in London. This turned out to be one of the best things I did; a fresh change of scenery, new ideas by new lecturers and a very inspiring interdisciplinary atmosphere.

I ended up doing my six-month MSc research project in a lab in the Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering department, and the rest is, as they say, history.

My PhD research has involved developing two models for an oral jaw tumour called ameloblastoma. The tumour initially develops inside the jaw bone, is surgically removed, but often redevelops a few years later in the soft tissues surrounding the original site. My research has developed co-culture models of the tumour with both a soft-tissue scaffold and a bone-like scaffold to see what happens in the tumour, how the cells interact with each other, if there is an invasion happening, and what drugs we could potentially use to reduce the size of the tumour in the clinic.

I’m also interested in things like engineering, cell mechanotransduction, other types of tissue engineering and cells in general. Currently, I’m also interested in job opportunities in a tissue engineering lab, as I’ll need a post doc or job soon!

I tweet @tuulawoo, where my aim is to follow the 70:20:10 rule, where 70% of my tweets are work related (usually complaining about a microscope), 20% are other interesting stuff (running and cycling) and 10% are random (in my case, mostly dogs).

During my week on Biotweeps, I intend on discussing things like my research, the need for 3D models, tissue engineering concepts, writing, papers, supervisors, conferences, STEM, out-reach, and plenty more. Let the thesis writing procrastination commence!

July 13th 2015 – Phil Cox, University of York

Philip CoxI am a lecturer at the University of York where I am member of both the Hull York Medical School and the Department of Archaeology (although really I’m a zoologist!). From my PhD onwards, I’ve worked on a wide variety of mammals spanning most of the mammalian family tree, but recently my research has focused down to one group that I find particularly fascinating – the rodents. To me, rodents are especially worthy of study because of their huge success in evolutionary terms (they are the largest group of mammals by a long chalk) and because of their highly derived and specialised feeding system.

Much of my research has concentrated on understanding the biomechanics of feeding in different rodents, extant and extinct. This is an exciting area of research at the boundary of biology and physics. As a dyed-in-the-wool life scientist, I never imagined my research would include physics, but it’s a fascinating field of research to be in. I use complex bioengineering techniques to virtually model rodent skulls and understand how they perform during feeding. This has allowed me to see how living rodent species are specialised for different activities, and to make predictions about the ecology of extinct rodents.

I have also been involved in the development of contrast-enhanced microCT – a scanning technique that uses iodine staining to enable the visualisation of soft tissues with microCT. I have used contrast-enhanced scans to describe the chewing muscles of rodents and reconstruct them in 3D. This technique is gathering quite a community of users now and we’re hoping it will become a standard methodology in morphological sciences.

During my week on biotweeps, I will be tweeting about rodents – why they are so successful as a group and why they are so interesting from a research perspective. I will also tweet about the computer modelling and contrast-enhanced scanning that I am currently doing, with lots of exciting images and reconstructions. If you want to know more about my research, visit my website www.drphilcox.com or follow me at @drphilcox .

June 15th 2015 – Caitlyn Cardetti, Columbia University Medical School

Caitlyn CardettiI am a research assistant for the Behavioral Medicine division at Columbia University Medical Center. I have been in this role just over a year. I have a B.S. in both human biology and psychology. The day to day as an RA in my lab varies greatly because we are all simultaneously working on various projects. We have two exercise studies that are actively recruiting, one that is finishing up, a fourth that is just getting going, and we are in the process of adding two more studies. The main study I work on is a clinical study looking into the effects of aerobic exercise on cognitive function. I also have a very small role in the Midlife Development in the U.S. (MIDUS) study. I help with scoring the psychophysiological sessions for the refresher. MIDUS is a huge national, longitudinal, interdisciplinary study and I can’t even begin to describe all of its components but it definitely a very innovative study that has led to many, many publications.

I am very passionate about spreading my love for science so I’m excited to get to be a part of Biotweeps. The general public tends to be pretty clueless about what happens behind closed lab doors and I would love for this to change. So I try my best to stay involved with STEM outreach. I was fortunate enough to be accepted for a STEM mentor fellowship this past fall semester with New York Academy of Sciences and it was great. I co-taught an afterschool forensics module for 9-10 year olds and they loved it. Also I more recently got involved with Pint of Science and helped organize their three day science event this past May.

You can find me on twitter as @CaitlynCardetti While I mainly tweet about science, be warned that during hockey season a couple hockey tweets might slip through. If you’re interest in my lab you can follow their twitter @BMEDcumc which is full of information about our current studies and recent findings on how exercise impacts health.

March 16th 2015 – Wes Wilson, University of Queensland / UBC

Wes WilsonWes Wilson is a molecular biologist in Canada, whose work is focused on proteins involved in breast cancer tumorigenesis as well as previous studies on the epigenetics of tumor progression in pediadric brain cancers. He has a passion is for the health sciences and occasionally blogs over at MostlyScience (http://mostlyscience.com/) to help demystify evidence based medicine. Wes is also an ardent programmer and developer and sits on one of the organizing committees for Hacking Health (http://www.hackinghealth.ca/) where both his interests collide. Wes is also the academic life editor over at ScienceSeeker (http://scienceseeker.org/) and you can follow his science and other coffee fueled endeavors on his twitter @WesleyWilson (https://twitter.com/WesleyWilson).