Throughout August, the SDRC are celebrating our next generation of researchers by publishing a series of blogs to PhD Students/ Early Career Researchers.  Read the previous blogs here

Our next blog is from Miriam Scarpa. Miriam gives us a fascinating overview of her research and how she is bringing science to the people of Glasgow.

 Hi! I am Miriam and I am an Italian researcher, in Scotland! I moved to Glasgow for my undergrad in Molecular and Cellular Biology in 2013, fell in love with this country, and I am currently working towards my PhD in Translational Pharmacology at the University of Glasgow.

 My PhD project focusses on investigating the M1 muscarinic acetylcholine receptor as a target for treatment of dementia. As many are aware of, the current pharmacological treatments such as Aricept, Razadyne, and Exelon, cause a number of poorly tolerated side-effects that are well depicted by the acronym S.L.U.D.G.E. (Salivation, Lacrimation, Urination, Defecation, Gastrointestinal distress, Emesis). These adverse effects are due to the so-called “cholinergic crisis”, which is the non-specific activation of all the muscarinic receptors (not only the M1) throughout the whole body. To tackle this issue, our laboratory aims to develop specific drugs that can target the M1 receptor only, which is the one that is responsible for all the good effects, including improvement of cognition. In particular, I am working on understanding the complex signalling pathway of this receptor, to ensure that the new ligands proposed to go forward into clinical trials induce the beneficial physiological outcomes, and are devoid of any adverse effects. To do this, I am working with prion-diseased mice, which develop a form of neurodegeneration depicting many of the hallmarks of dementia.

 I also use very pretty neurons (cells from the brain!), like the ones in above the picture – The green dots are the M1 muscarinic receptors and the blue blobs are the cell’s nuclei containing the DNA (genetic information).

Beside my lab work, I enjoy volunteering to public engagement events, usually related to my research subject, or science in general. Glasgow is such an amazing hub for this kind of event, offering a huge range of activities that can engage children and adults of any age. I have been a volunteer at the Glasgow Science Centre for “Meet the Expert” where schools visit to meet researchers, and to the Riverside Museum for the annual Explorathon. With other members of our group and research institute, we have organised a stall of interactive games and other hands on activities such as “Mr Pill”, which outlined the drug discovery process bench-to-bedside, or “Fantastic Proteins, and where to find them” where children had to find and make their own proteins with different functions and structure.  Children and their families seem to really enjoy our pharmacology-based games, but it is safe to say that we had the most fun!

This year I have also been part of the Glasgow Pint of Science, which brings scientists in the pub (!!!) to talk about their research to the public. It was such a great experience! It was amazing to listen to the public opinion, and hear the most insightful (and very challenging!) questions around the topic from a non-scientific perspective. 

I am board member of the GIST (Glasgow Insight in Science and Technology), which is a network based in Glasgow, mainly focussed on science communication and public engagement, which publish articles, videos, and podcasts about STEM topics, all written, edited, and produced by students.

 Follow Miriam on Twitter: @miriamscarpa4

 The SDRC will be posting blogs featuring bios from ECRs throughout August. Follow us on Twitter so you can keep up to date with the series.