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Dr M. Carmen Galan

 Name: Dr M. Carmen Galan


Age range: 36-40

Research institution: School of Chemistry, University of Bristol

Research career length: 15 years

Research Council:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

Location: Bristol, England

Qualifications post-school:
Universidad de Alicante, Spain. BSc in Chemistry. Specialised in Analytical Chemistry
MPhil in Pure and Applied Chemistry, University of Strathclyde, Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry, Glasgow
PhD in Organic Chemistry, Complex Carbohydrate Research Centre, The University of Georgia, USA

Career path:
Post-Doctoral Research Associate, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California, USA
Post-Doctoral Fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA, USA
Temporary Lecturer in Organic Chemistry, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol
Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellow
Visiting Professor Chemistry Department, Université Joseph Fourier, Grenoble, France
EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Organic Chemistry, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol

The sugar-like molecules found within cell membranes play a very important role in many vital cell processes. The nature of these sugars can differ considerably between diseased and normal cells. This knowledge allows organic chemists like Carmen Galan, to carry out research designed to develop new methods of delivering drugs to treat ‘sick’ cells, and to highlight when and why a cell is not behaving in a healthy normal way.

My research involves the development of synthetic methods to produce ‘tools’ that will hopefully one day help us to diagnose and treat a range of diseases, through producing new treatments and vaccines. I investigate carbohydrates that are found on the surface of cells which we use to show which cells are sick (biomarkers) or to be the place where drugs can attach (drug targets).

We try to build new molecules that nobody else has made before. Sometimes we develop new ways of making something, which then allows others to do it more easily. When you’re dealing with a biological system, you do not necessarily understand the whole thing, and I love the fact that you can introduce a molecule into this system and use this to help understand how the entire system actually works.

In addition to my research, I also teach undergraduates and postgraduates, supervise and examine PhD students, and referee grant applications and research papers submitted to publications. Like other researchers, some of my time is spent presenting my work at national and international conferences.

There are always sacrifices to be made but I am sure that is the case with any job. But I cannot think of a better job than being a researcher

Science for me is a family thing. My mum was a school teacher who specialised in science and maths, and my dad was a computer engineer. I have always been interested in science. My husband is a scientist, so I discuss a lot of my work with him. Now I have a young daughter, sometimes if she doesn’t want to sleep, I say “Come on, let me tell you a story”. The ‘story’ could be a talk I’m giving the following day. She is eight, and falls asleep; saying Mummy...this is really boring! It isn’t of course, but she doesn’t realise that yet!

Science is truly international, which has meant that I’ve had the good fortune to study and work in many different countries. These days I travel overseas around 3-4 times a year, and I recently spent three weeks at the Carlsberg laboratories in Copenhagen where I learned about enzymes that we could use to prepare interesting new biological molecules. My research is also collaborative, which means that I work with a whole range of physicists, biologists and chemists.

If you were to ask me why research is important, I’d have to say that there is so much we simply don’t know and that it is waiting for us to find it. New drugs, techniques and technologies are waiting to be invented or discovered that could help us improve our health and our lives more generally. Research is necessary for our society to develop and improve. If you think about vaccines and how they have prevented many deaths, think of the Internet, think of aspirin! All of these things and millions more, came about because of research...and the most exciting part is that there is much more out there for us to discover.

I am currently an EPSRC Career Acceleration Fellow, which is funding for researchers at an early stage career of their career to support them pursue new research directions and build international collaborations within and across their discipline, and since April 2013, I am also a senior lecturer, and one day would like to become a professor in my area of research.


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