MRC Prion Unit and Institute of Prion diseases


Meet The Staff: Sarah Mazdon

20 December 2021

This is the first in a new series of articles where we interview staff at the MRC Prion Unit at UCL. We hope it will give an idea of what goes on behind the scenes, the broad range of roles involved in running an Institute and highlight some of the amazing people who work here.


Job title: National Prion Monitoring Cohort Study Research Activity Co-ordinator & Cohort Secretary

By Lauren Woolley, PhD Student and Co-coordinator for Public Engagement

To start off our new series of staff interviews, I sat down with Sarah Mazdon, who works for the National Prion Clinic. Sarah has been working as part of the Clinic since March 2019 and quickly became an integral part of the Clinic team.

Lauren: What do you have to do in your role as the Cohort Manager?
Sarah: My main role is updating all of the paperwork that we collate from our patients in the National Prion Monitoring Cohort. Doctors visit the Cohort patients and then feedback the information to me, and I input this into the spreadsheets. I also look after the Cohort budget; manage clinician’s expenses; organize the annual Clinic Open Day; and book appointments for patients and their families to visit. Aside from my work for the Cohort, I also take the minutes for committees.

Lauren: What is your favourite thing about working at the Prion Unit?
Sarah: It is quite a relaxed environment compared to other jobs I have had – the people here are friendly and I don’t feel afraid to ask anyone a stupid question! When I first started, I had never worked at UCL before, and everyone was so welcoming.

Lauren: So how did you get here? Why did you choose to work with prions?
Sarah: Before I started at the Prion Unit I was working at UCLH (University College London Hospital). I was the assistant general manager for neurology and diagnostics and though I enjoyed it, I was always very busy. Through my job at UCLH I was already acquainted with Simon Mead (Clinical Lead of the National Prion Clinic) and when I heard about the vacancy through him I decided to apply. It wasn’t really about working with prions specifically, I just wanted a change and the timing worked out well.

Lauren: I see! Were you already aware of prions when you applied for the job?
Sarah: I vaguely knew about prions when I worked at UCLH because I was on the interview panel for the Patient Administrator post for the National Prion Clinic – I had to look them up to know what a prion actually was! I knew about mad cow disease, but I actually thought it was just about eating too much beef. But, I have learnt so much by working here, especially about sporadic prion diseases such as CJD. Also since I get to go to the Human Genetics research group meetings I have had the opportunity to learn even more.

Lauren: Can you tell me about your most memorable work day?
Sarah: I think that would be the day we got told the first lockdown was happening (March 2020). I thought ‘Okay so, I need to make sure I take all my stuff with me as I don’t know when I am going to come back.’ I never thought it would be such a long time though - I was off for three or four months in the end.

Lauren: It was a strange time. So did you always know what you wanted to do when you were growing up?
Sarah: No, I didn’t really have a specific job in mind, I just pootled along. I was quite interested in medicine because my Dad worked in a hospital. When I was at school someone came around to do careers advice and told me about being a medical secretary and I thought, ‘that sounds quite nice, I could do that.’ So that’s how I got into it really.  I’m quite an inquisitive person so I enjoy knowing what’s going on – for example when I was a medical secretary I used to type up clinic letters;  I enjoyed seeing  the patients journey and how their condition developed.

Lauren: What training did you have to do to become a medical secretary? Did you go to University?
Sarah: No, I didn’t go to University at all. I did Chemistry at GCSE and then I attended college for 2 years to complete the Association of Medical Secretaries, Practice Administrators and Receptionists Diploma (AMSPAR). I wasn’t really encouraged to go to university like students are now and I didn’t need to go for what I wanted to do.

Lauren: That makes sense. Can I ask about your life outside of work – do you have any hobbies?
Sarah: I volunteer at a cat rescue centre – the Celia Hammond Animal Trust

A Cat
Lauren: Do you have any pets yourself?

Sarah: Yes, I’ve got four cats. Bailey, Dusty, Agnes and Albert (pictured). They are all rescue cats. Albert I was originally fostering, along with his mum and siblings, and decided to keep him, so we have actually had him since he was 10 days old. Plus, we still foster so I have a mum and three kittens in the house at the moment. My husband still works from home full time because of the pandemic, so he looks after them during the day.


Lauren: That’s one positive outcome of the last few years then I suppose! The last thing I wanted to ask you is this: If you weren’t doing this job, what would you do instead?
Sarah: I would do something with cats! Or other animals as well.

Thank you to Sarah for telling me all about her work here at the MRC Prion Unit at UCL. In the New Year we want to share the stories of more of our wonderful staff members here at the Unit. Until then, if you would like to donate to the Celia Hammond animal centre you can find their website. 

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year