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Meet the Researcher: Cassy Ashman

September 2014


How and why did you get into MND research?

Neuroscience has always been a subject of huge fascination for me, mainly as I have a younger brother who is severely Autistic and my father was diagnosed with Schizophrenia when I was at secondary school; so the brain and how it works I could say is an innate interest of mine from a very young age. After reading Neuroscience at the University of Sheffield, I soon began to realise that many neurological disorders were centred on the idea of cell survival and when I saw this PhD project working at SITraN to help promote the cell survival of neurons in MND I was instantly attracted to apply.

What is it like working in SITraN?

I really enjoy working in SITraN as everyone here is very helpful and friendly, which is great for me as a very early career researcher where almost everything I do is new (my learning curve as a PhD student is very steep!). There are some brilliant minds here and its great being surrounding by such innovative and exciting research as it can really spear you on to work to your best.

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

The project I’m working on alongside my supervisors Dr Ke Ning and Professor Pamela Shaw encompasses working to try and produce motor neurones made from patient skin cells (fibroblasts). The patient’s skin cells I receive will have a genetic background of the newly discovered gene C9ORF72, recently implicated in MND. I will then use these motor neurones as a model for MND and I will measure how well they survive after stress; the electrophysiology of the motor neurones (how well they transmit and receive messages as real motor neurons do); and finally how well they survive after expose to certain drugs proposed to increase the survival of motor neurones. In addition I will examine the genetic profiles of the motor neurons I produce and compare this to the genetic profiles for cells from C9ORF72 patients already discovered by researchers here at SITraN.

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

I really enjoy the excitement of finding out that your experiment has produced results in a positive direction, meaning you can move onto the next stage of your project. I also enjoy the brilliant opportunities they offer here at SITraN such as the seminars and talks given by renowned neuroscientists and neurologists form around the world.

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

I would have to say it would be getting into my PhD here at SITraN!

Who do you admire the most?

The person I admire the most is probably my Mom, Sonia Ashman. Having to raise three children, one with severe Autism alongside looking after my father, is no easy feat! She really has encouraged me to be determined, aim high and fight in the face of adversity.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I am currently learning French, learning to drive and I have started a Hatha yoga class which are proving quite challenging in themselves! I also enjoy volunteering and I am currently working on a project aimed at getting primary school children from disadvantaged backgrounds to think about studying at University when they are older. When I am back in Birmingham my home town and have some free time, I work for a charity called Resources for Autism as a play-worker with children aged 8 to 19, giving their parents some much needed respite whilst providing Autism centred one to one care for the child.

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