Grand Challenge PD student wins Dean's Prize

9 December 2013

Lauren Bourke

Lauren Bourke, a Grand Challenge PhD student in UCL’s Division of Medicine, has been awarded the Dean’s prize for her research into cardiac injury in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

SLE is a systemic autoimmune condition which can affect multiple organs, although cardiovascular disease accounts for 25% of mortality.  Lauren’s research has focused on ischaemic reperfusion (I/R) injury after myocardial infarction.  This is a cause of up to half of cell death after MI, and occurs when hypoxic cells are reoxygenated. More specifically, she has found that hydroxychloroquine (a drug frequently used in the treatment of SLE) is protective against this kind of damage to cardiac muscle cells in vitro.

Neonatal Rat Cardiomyocytes
HCQ reduces TUNEL

The findings were shown in a 10 minute presentation to the Dean and a panel of judges, and Lauren fought off stiff competition from seven other students of the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences to walk away with the prize.

Lauren began her PhD research in October 2011, having been previously awarded a BSc in Medical Biochemistry.  Her supervisor is Dr. John Ioannou, Senior Lecturer and Honorary Consultant in Adolescent and Adult Rheumatology.

“From the start, John has supported me,” says Lauren.  “We have weekly meetings as well as regular informal discussions about experiments.  He gives advice but also encourages me to develop my own ideas and think about the next steps in my project, which really allows me to develop as a scientist.”

Now in her final year, Lauren has set up a collaboration with the Centre for Advanced Biological Imaging and is working on experiments to confirm the protective mechanism of hydroxychloroquine in an in vivo model of ischaemic reperfusion injury.

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