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Meet the Researcher: Dr Emily Goodall

January 2013

Emily GoodallEmily is a researcher within the Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN) and active member of SMND RAG. Her father died of Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in 1998 which has motivated her to pursue a research career in this field.  Emily has been working with Professor Pamela Shaw in the Sheffield research team for five years and is currently funded by the MND Association to develop a blood test to help speed up the diagnosis of MND.

How and why did you get into MND research?

Biology was always my favourite subject at school and this theme carried on with a degree in Genetics. I then decided a research career was for me, so in my final year I used the MND Association website to find PhD studentships investigating MND.  The scientist in me wanted to find out why my father had this disease and I wanted to help other people affected by it.  I worked at the University of Birmingham for 4 years on the biological mechanisms of MND, graduating with a PhD in 2007. During that time I had my eyes opened to the efforts of scientists and clinicians all around the world who are fighting MND, which included a team in Sheffield. When writing up my PhD thesis I contacted Professor Shaw and was fortunate to be offered a post in the Neurology team here in Sheffield, where I have been researching MND ever since.

What is it like working in SITraN?

I remember seeing blue prints for the SITraN building in my first ever lab meeting with Professor Shaw back in 2008 and it has been incredible to see everything come together over the last few years.  From the amazing fundraising efforts, to the ground breaking ceremony and construction, to now working in what is a world-leading institute for MND research.  There is a great buzz about the building and a team of dedicated researchers who are working hard to understand the causes of MND, improve patient care and eventually find effective treatments. To find out more check out the SITraN website at http://www.sitran.dept.shef.ac.uk,

Can you briefly describe the research project you are currently working on?

The diagnosis of MND can be complex, there is no diagnostic test and other conditions have to be ruled out before it is confirmed.  For my father the process of getting a final diagnosis took over a year generating months of uncertainty and an anxious wait before things could be set in motion for his long term care.  This motivated me to write a research project aiming to develop a blood test for MND and help speed up the diagnostic process, which was funded by the MND Association in 2010.  For more detail please see the MND Association website http://www.mndassociation.org/research/Broad+Appeal/Goodall.

What do you enjoy most about your job as a researcher?

I enjoy the research environment and the feeling that I am making a difference, however small, to those affected by MND.  Losing my father to the disease has motivated me to not only do the research but communicate the science to those affected by MND and help raise awareness.  I enjoy passing on my knowledge and passion for research to others and have worked closely with the MND Association on several fund raising and awareness campaigns. This has led to some interesting extra activities, for example having my portrait painted by “Patrick the Optimist” (an artist with MND) and being invited to attend a gala MND fund raising diner at Lord’s cricket ground with the entire England team!

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

There are two highlights, first was attending my first MND International Symposium which was in Philadelphia, 2004, an experience I will never forget.  I felt honoured to be invited to speak about my research at the conference in front of a large and well respected audience but can also say I was truly terrified!  The conference opened my eyes to the international efforts to understand MND and showcased world leading research. It was inspiring to see hundreds of dedicated people gathered together with the common goal of riding the world of MND.   The second highlight is finding out my project to design a blood test for MND had been funded.  I first conceived the idea a few years before this so it had been a lengthy process to develop the concept, do some preliminary laboratory experiments and write the grant application to the final anxious wait for a decision from the grant reviewing committee at the MND Association.  Improving diagnosis is something I feel strongly about, it will help patients and their families get the support they need faster and any future therapies for MND are likely to be the most affective if given early in the disease course.

Who do you admire the most?

I have met some truly amazing MND patients, carers and families. It is such a devastating condition and yet there is an optimistic, fight back attitude within the MND community.

 What do you like doing in your spare time?

I don’t really have any spare time at the moment as my one year old daughter is learning to walk!!  We take her out and about in the surrounding countryside at the weekends and feel very lucky to live in Sheffield with the Peak District right on our doorstep.

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