Name: Violaine See
Research institution: Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, University of Liverpool
Research career length: 16 years
Research Council: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Location: Liverpool, England
Brief summary of research: Cell signalling
French Baccalaureate, with distinction
BSc in Biophysics and Chemistry in Strasbourg
Master’s Degree in Molecular Pharmacology, Strasbourg
PhD in Pharmacology and molecular neurosciences, Strasbourg
Two-year junior lectureship in StrasbourgPostdoctoral position at the University of Liverpool
BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship
Lectureship, University of Liverpool
Understanding how cells divide, grow and die gives scientists insight into life itself. When cells start to grow and divide abnormally in an organ or body tissue, it can lead to cancer. Violaine See and her team are adding to our knowledge about cells, as well as exploring how the low levels of oxygen found in some fast-growing tumours make these tumour cells more difficult to treat.
I am investigating how cells adapt to low oxygen levels. This situation happens when people go to high altitude and when an embryo develops in the womb, but it also occurs in heart disease and cancer, where cells become starved of blood supply. When cells are growing normally, the tiny blood vessels that supply nutrients and oxygen tend to grow at the same rate. But with some cancers, cells grow faster than the new blood vessels and the cells centre of the tumour have therefore very low levels of oxygen, which is called hypoxia. You would think that this would be a good thing and would weaken the tumour cells, but in fact the cells adapt to this new situation and become more aggressive and difficult to treat using chemotherapy and radiotherapy - the two main treatments for cancer.
Our experiments investigate what happens inside cells at different stages in their life cycles. I was always interested by understanding why cells divide, survive or die, and what controls the various stages. During my PhD , I researched the normal process of cell death that occurs in the developing nervous system. I wanted to extend this area of study to look at what was happening in the cells in real time. I joined the laboratory of Mike White in Liverpool, where techniques had been developed for imaging the cells live and follow them for long periods of time. I still find it fascinating, to be able to see cells dividing or dying (bubbling and exploding) before my eyes.
Since I lead a research group, as well as experimental research, I have responsibility for staffing and finances for the group, including applying for research grants and making sure that work stays within the budgets that are set. I set up research collaborations and manage the microscopy research facility. As a Lecturer and researcher, I supervise Undergraduate and postgraduate students and write academic papers, in addition to teaching, preparing lectures marking students’ work. I attend conferences around 2-3 times per year; the most memorable was in Mumbai in India
On a day-to-day basis, I derive great satisfaction from being a researcher - especially when experiments work and provide exciting results or when I understand things better. I get a real sense of achievement too, when a research paper or a grant is accepted for publication or when my work is recognised by other scientists.
I really enjoy my work and am ambitious both to get on and to increase my knowledge. I hope to become a professor in the future. But I also have a life away from the lab, with three young children, a passion for rock climbing, mountaineering and skiing…. and I dance Argentine tango too!