Name: Harriet Gliddon
Research institution: Centre for Molecular Microbiology and Infection, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London
Research career length: 1 year
Research Council: Medical Research Council (MRC)
Location: London, England
Brief summary of research: Microbial Pathogenesis
A-levels: Biology, Chemistry, Physics
BSc in Biochemistry, Imperial College London
MRes in Biomedical Research, specialising in Microbial Pathogenesis
For more than half a century, many of us have taken for granted the existence of antibiotic drugs in the fight against bacterial diseases. For one of the most feared diseases - TB, scientists like Harriet Gliddon are engaged in trying to find new ways of attacking the resistant strains of the bacterium, through understanding the microbe’s biochemistry.
Tuberculosis (TB) is the leading cause of bacterial death worldwide. The bacterium that causes the disease is thought to have infected around one-third of the world’s population. Most cases of TB require six months of treatment with four different drugs. Many patients find it difficult to stick to this treatment programme and stop taking the medication before they’re fully cured, resulting in resistant strains of TB. Treating these new forms of the disease is at least one hundred times more costly and requires a far longer treatment time. Therefore, there is an urgent need for new methods of tackling these resistant strains.
We are trying to discover how these resistant bacteria survive in the human body. During an infection, various essential nutrients are thought to be in short supply, including nitrogen, which the bacterium senses and responds accordingly. The nitrogen ‘stress response’ of TB bacteria is still little understood, and investigating how they survive low nitrogen levels could help us find new ways of tackling the disease.
I was always really interested in science, but didn’t have a clear sense of what I might specialise in until I did my A-levels, when I started to learn about biochemistry. To me, this seemed like a way to understand how life works, and so I decided to study the subject at university. I found I was fascinated by infectious diseases and I applied for a four-year MRC-funded studentship at the university, and am now in my first year of a research Master’s (MRes) in Biomedical Research, specialising in microbial pathogenesis. At the moment I'm trying to understand how TB infects our cells and interacts with our immune systems.
Most of my time is spent in the lab, but I also tutor on the Undergraduate course in Global Health. I participate in various outreach activities, including workshops on infectious diseases at primary schools, and am on the organising committee for the Imperial College Science Communication Forum.
I find it really rewarding to tackle the challenges research presents, whether the results are negative or positive. I also really enjoy explaining my research to other people and getting their advice when things go wrong. It's amazing to be surrounded by so many incredibly intelligent people, and there's a great atmosphere of openness and collaboration, which is very inspiring.