Name: Dr Lori Passmore
Research institution: Division of Structural Studies, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge
Research career length: 13 years
Research Council: Medical Research Council (MRC)
Location: Cambridge, England
Brief summary of research: Regulation of gene expression
High School Diploma (Canada)
BSc Honours in Biochemistry, University of British Columbia, Vancouver Canada
PhD in Structural Biology, The Institute of Cancer Research, London
Postdoctoral Fellow, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
Beit Memorial Fellowship for Medical Research
Group Leader at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge
Genes are responsible for controlling the chemistry and function of our cells, yet genes themselves are also regulated within the cell. Lori Passmore carries out research that attempts to understand the mechanisms through which gene expression is regulated, and to gain insight into what occurs when faulty gene expression leads to disease.
Although it may seem like there are many things we know about the world around us, we still don't understand many of the fundamental processes of life. A better understanding of how a normal cell works will help us to interpret what goes wrong in disease, and ultimately develop new treatments. The more we know of the structure of biological chemicals within a cell, the better we can understand how the cell works. My current research seeks to understand how genes are regulated, which in turn, determines how cells function. This could show how faulty gene expression contributes to diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
A major factor igniting my interest in research, was the laboratory experience I obtained during my Undergraduate degree in Canada, as part of a student work programme. This involved alternating between four months of lectures and four months of lab work, resulting in undergraduate research projects comprising a diverse range of topics and techniques. I also did a research project where I investigated a bacterial enzyme responsible for resistance to certain antibiotics. I used a technique called X-ray crystallography where the dispersal of x-rays from a protein crystal is used to determine the enzyme’s 3-dimensional shape at an atomic level.
My interest in protein structure motivated me to move from Canada to pursue a PhD at The Institute of Cancer Research in London. I learned a lot from my PhD supervisor who was an expert in X-ray crystal structures of a number of important cellular enzymes. As a postdoctoral fellow, I developed my skills in some of the latest techniques designed to study large molecules. For example, we image individual protein molecules with an electron microsope (EM), then use these to build 3D models of their structures. I moved to the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) where 3D EM and many other structural techniques have been pioneered, and which I now use in my research. Throughout my career, my supervisors and colleagues have been very supportive. I think it is important to choose mentors who you get along with and who you can rely on for advice.
After my post-doctoral work, I was very fortunate to be offered a Programmer Leader Track position at the MRC LMB. I determine my own research direction and run a lab with five PhD students and post-doctoral fellows. If, after 5 years, I am successful, I will be promoted to a more senior ‘Programme Leader’. My lab has already made some exciting discoveries and my aim is to continue research into gene expression in an academic environment.
Being a mother hasn’t prevented me from progressing in my career as an academic researcher. I have two young daughters, aged 2 and 6 years old, and my 6-year-old daughter is fascinated by my work and loves learning about nature. I think it’s important to know that it is possible to integrate family and career.
Research is fun - I enjoy addressing biological problems through experiments. A new result is very exciting and usually stimulates more questions, experiments and discoveries. There are so many things that we don't understand in biology and I love being a part of this!