A Scientist Working on Huntington’s Disease

Note: Dr Emma Yhnell is a scientist working in the Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute at Cardiff University, Wales, UK. Here she gives us her perspective on what it is like to be a scientist working on Huntington’s disease.

How I go into science. 

I really loved science at school, I have to admit that physics wasn’t exactly my favourite, but I loved Biology and Chemistry. I had great teachers who encouraged me to ask lots of questions and learn loads about science. When it came to deciding what to do at the end of my time at school, I knew that I wanted to go to university. But when it came to deciding on which university it was hard, they all seemed to offer similar things, but I combined my love of Biology and Chemistry and decided that I would study Biochemistry at Cardiff University.

Before I knew it, 3 years had absolutely flown by, and it was time to decide what I wanted to do at the end of my undergraduate degree. I had a great time during my degree and I loved the city that I had spent 3 years in, so I wanted to stay. I was looking at applying for PhD’s, higher degrees that focus on a specialist subject. Deciding that I was going to start applying for PhD’s was no small step, it was a tough, competitive process and hard work. I went for an interview in the Brain Repair Group, a research lab that looked at diseases of the brain such as Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease and that were researching therapies to try and treat these diseases. I love the atmosphere there and was accepted on to a 3 year PhD scheme funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) to research a mouse model of Huntington’s disease.

Why I chose Huntington’s disease

I have some experience of Huntington’s disease through family connections, there is also an great sense of community among Huntington’s disease researchers and family members.  But one of the main reasons I chose to study Huntington’s disease was that it is a really interesting disease. It has been previously referred to as ‘the most curable incurable brain disease’, this is because the faulty gene that causes the disease was discovered in 1993. It is incredibly rare for a single gene to be shown to cause a disease. This makes Huntington’s disease a special and unique disease and particularly good for research. During my PhD I learnt a huge amount, and I was also invited into the Huntington’s disease patient clinic to meet people and families affected. This was a real turning point for me and after this I applied for more research funding to look at computer game brain training for people affected by Huntington’s disease. I started off in the lab looking at Huntington’s disease and now I spend my time doing clinical research in the patient clinic.

What does a scientist do every day?

So, what does a scientist do every day? Well, in my current job as a Health and Care Research Wales Fellow I am looking at brain training computer games to see if they can help people affected by Huntington’s disease. This means I have a lot of interaction with patients and families. I am also really lucky as I get to travel and present my research. I love my work as a research scientist. The thing I really love about my job is that I get to talk to people about science and help people and families affected by Huntington’s disease.