The Patrick Wild Centre is starting a new regular feature on its website called “Researcher in Spotlight”, where we ask our researchers to tell us a bit more about themselves. First up is Cathy Abbott.
Could you give us a quick overview of your background and career so far?
I did my first degree in Pathobiology, then a PhD in Biochemical Genetics – I did the biochemistry bits at Reading University and the mouse genetics at MRC Harwell. I then did a postdoc at UCL, also on mouse models of human disease but this time more molecular. I got a permanent group leader post straight after my postdoc but then had to give up tenure to come to Edinburgh a few years later. I was in the MRC Human Genetics Unit here for the first few years and then landed another tenured post at the university.
How did you become interested in your current field of research?
I worked on a mutant strain of mice as a PhD student that always intrigued me. When I got my own lab I set out to find the gene that was mutated in this strain, which turned out to be eEF1A2. We now know that this gene is also mutated in neurodevelopmental disorders (NDD) in humans.
What are you currently working on and what importance does your work have for autism research?
We are now working on the mutations in eEF1A2 that cause NDD, and trying to understand the mechanism by which they cause autism and epilepsy. It’s a big challenge because although not many people have mutations in eEF1A2, they are almost all different, so we are not getting easy clues just from looking at where they are!
What do you enjoy most about scientific research?
I just love puzzling over data and putting all the pieces together to make (with luck) a coherent story. I also really value my interactions with the families of children with mutations in eEF1A2, and am constantly inspired by their generosity in sharing their stories.
What do you like about the scientific community in Edinburgh?
Oh, I think you’ll get the same answer from everyone – collaboration! Edinburgh has an amazingly collegiate atmosphere and people are always so keen to share expertise and resources. It’s a wonderful place to work, even though the neuroscience community is so dispersed geographically.
What is your favourite high-tech research tool?
I have been slightly obsessed with CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing for a while now – I had so many things I always wanted to do but couldn’t until this technology came along.
What is your favourite low-tech research tool?
It’s so long since I did any bench work but I always liked agarose mini-gels. I am very impatient and love anything that shows results quickly.
Where do you usually get the best ideas for your research?
Reading papers (often on the bus to work), listening to seminars, occasionally via Twitter- usually serendipitous.
What is your hidden talent?
Not strictly a talent, but certainly hidden – I was employed as a qualified lifeguard during summer holidays at university. I am also quite handy with a needle and love sewing!