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Dr Sian Henson
Senior Lecturer in Microvascular Research, Queen Mary University of London
Connection to the Academy: Springboard awardee and SUSTAIN participant
I took time out and deviated from the traditional career path and then fell foul of the time constraints of numerous grants. The Springboard scheme run by the Academy was the only scheme of its type that didn’t come with any time restrictions. The Academy has had a massive influence on my career.
What do you work on?
I was lucky to win one of the Academy of Medical Sciences’ first Springboard awards back in 2015. These provide up to £100,000 over two years plus career support to help scientists to start their independent research careers.
The scheme recognised my potential and allowed me to establish my own research group focusing on the immune system in ageing. Ageing is often thought of as inevitable, rather than treatable. My work focuses on how we can reverse some aspects of ageing and promote a healthier lifespan.
A central part of the ageing process is the way our immune system changes. In fact, I can’t think of any age-related disease that isn’t affected by our immune system. When it works well, our immune system protects us from infectious diseases and cancer. But even then, it’s a fine balance. Illnesses such as arthritis and heart disease are the result of our immune cells being in the wrong place.As we age, the danger of cells moving to the wrong parts our body increases. For example, we find old immune cells in the fatty deposits in veins and arteries that cause heart attacks and strokes. Many older people who appear healthy actually have low grade inflammation and this seems to trigger the damaging movement of our immune cells.
I’m interested in the causes of this inflammation and whether it can be prevented, either through the development of new drugs or finding new way to use existing drugs.
This is an exciting field to be in at the moment. With many new techniques to explore the immune system, there is always something different to try and something new to learn. If we can unpick the processes involved we may be able to find new ways to treat diseases such as diabetes and dementia.
Then in 2016 I applied to be part of the Academy's SUSTAIN programme. This is a fantastic scheme aimed at newly independent female scientists to develop our leadership skills and help redress the lack of women in top academic positions.
Throughout my career I've been trained in how to do experiments, interpret data and apply for grants. But what we are not trained in is how to run that grant and manage a team of people. The management training I've recieved from the Academy of Medical Sciences via the SUSTAIN programme has been invaluable. I have taken every opportunity offered to me from training courses through to the Academy's mentoring scheme.