The impaired control of blood glucose in diabetes
Dr. Ana Cruz recently defended her PhD at Exeter which focused on understanding the whole body regulation of energy metabolism and glucose homeostasis, with specific focus on how these change in diabetes. Ana is working for the College of Medicine and Heath as a research scientist continuing to therapeutically target impaired glucose homeostasis in various models of diabetes while eagerly waiting to start a JDRF funded postdoctoral position in October 2020.
Unique PhD experience
As a research scientist, I am interested in understanding how the control of blood glucose becomes impaired in diabetes, including understanding how muscle function is altered in Type 2 diabetes and how the brain can be targeted to treat dysregulated blood glucose control in Type 1 diabetes. I conduct my research using cell models, rodents and humans and this is only possible due to the unique opportunities I had during my PhD at Exeter.
I have recently defended said PhD and am currently working as a research scientist at the College of Medicine and Health, ready to start a JDRF funded postdoctoral position in October 2020.
Two sides of one coin
The structure of my PhD was unique, and a first for Exeter, and that came with new exciting opportunities and some setbacks. I was co-funded by the Medical School and Sport and Health Sciences and that meant being split between campuses, being led by two primary supervisors and learning a very wide array of skills and techniques that enabled me to thrive in different research domains.
My first year was based at the RILD building where I investigated the effect of high-fat treatments on muscle cell growth and function. This primarily involved techniques like cell culture (in sterile hoods) and a number of analytical tests generated from those samples. This kind of lab work is very self-driven and experiments are planned on the back of outcomes from previous experiments, which makes for fast progress and continuous planning and data analysis.
In my second year I had the opportunity to translate this research into humans (very rare opportunity). I had to adjust to a new campus, as I was now based at St. Luke’s, as well as new colleagues and method of supervision. I learnt a lot very quickly as my analytical background was very different from the skills needed here, like writing ethics forms, taking consent, making solutions safe to be used in humans, taking blood and manipulating diets.
The dynamic nature and collaborative effort to start and finish the clinical trial was fantastic to be a part of, as it was a big change from day to day experiments conducted on my own. I went from answering a research question in a week to waiting a year to complete the study and analyse the data, so the change in pace was definitely a challenge. With regard to the PhD however, at the time, it felt like a second first year in terms of having a steep learning curve and new environment to adjust to.
In my third and final year I was given the opportunity to work with rodents using a novel pharmacological compound to regulate blood glucose. Once again, this required a very different set of skills and expertise, from attaining a Home Office personal licence, to adjusting to a novel model organism and designing studies that last between a few days and a few weeks. This was also based on a different campus. Interestingly, this work proved to be a mix of self-driven experiments generating data that could be analysed in real time and long-term studies requiring multiple people and levels of expertise. Unknowingly, the knowledge and experience I had attained in the first two year made this transition incredibly smooth and quick and made for a very productive research outcome.
A more confident scientist
I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to work across research departments, campuses and research teams, to have been exposed to different methods of supervision and research approaches and to have developed such as large variety of skills that make me a better researcher and will certainly open new doors in the future. Although it was challenging to handle the different amounts and types of workload, the interactions with different people and to bring it all together in one PhD thesis, it was a very unique experience to be a part of and has made me a better and more confident scientist.