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PhD journeys at Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health

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Going rogue on the Bogue: my Bogue Fellowship at SickKids Hospital, Toronto

melanie.koelbel.157 November 2019

Written by Daniyal Jafree a MB/PhD student, supervised by Dr David Long and Professor Peter Scambler in the Developmental Biology and Cancer programme, studying how lymphatics in the kidney develop. Lymphatics are specialised tubes which clear debris, excess fluid and immune cells from organs. They have important roles in kidney disease, but how they appear and grow in the kidney in the first place has been a complete mystery.

The first year of my PhD was spent characterising how lymphatics normally grow in the kidney. Based on experiments I did, we had a strange idea about precisely where the cells that make lymphatics in the kidney might be coming from. However, we faced a major roadblock, as we didn’t have access to the right techniques to test our strange idea. Actually, no one in the UK did. With 2-3 years of my PhD left, a unique problem to solve and no way to solve it, what am I to do?

A few Skype calls, a short application form to UCL’s Bogue Fellowship scheme (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/scholarships/graduate/UK-EU_Res/bogue-fellowship) and a 7-hour flight featuring two screaming babies later, I found myself at the Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning (PGCRL) at SickKids Hospital, Toronto. PGCRL is the equivalent of GOSICH in Canada, and SickKids is the largest centre dedicated to improving children’s health in the country. After acclimatising to Toronto’s skyscrapers (my apartment was on the 37thfloor), the team of Professor Norman Rosenblum (my supervisor in Canada) and I tried to tackle the mysteries of kidney lymphatic development using gene editing strategies to trace stem cells in mice.

Thanks to tremendous luck, an extremely supportive team and a mouth-wateringly fancy microscopy facility at PGCRL, it took us 9 weeks to test our strange idea of where lymphatic cells in the kidney are coming from. What we found was really surprising, and challenges what we thought we know about how lymphatics develop. The next trick will be to test whether we can exploit this to target lymphatics in kidney diseases; an ongoing aim in David’s laboratory.

I’m grateful to David for facilitating the trip, the GOSICH team and the MB/PhD programme for allowing me to go and Norm in Toronto for getting me involved in the amazing environment at SickKids. Whilst out there, I even got some time to travel, visit family and explore the Canadian wilderness.

Bottom line – if you’re a PhD student with an interesting idea and some time left till your thesis is due: go rogue. Go Bogue.