Scientist Focus: Lizzie Glennon


By Dr Laura Phipps | Friday 11 September 2015

lg-portraitDr Lizzie Glennon is an Alzheimer’s Research UK-funded scientist currently based at King’s College London, where she studies how proteins are transported around brain cells, and how this might go wrong in Alzheimer’s disease.

Lizzie is the Administrator and Early Career Representative for the King’s College Alzheimer’s Research UK Network Centre, and also part of the Alzheimer’s Research UK London Supporter Group.

Name and job title.

Dr Lizzie Glennon, Post-doctoral researcher.

What was your early career path to being a researcher?

I did a degree in biochemistry at The University of York, followed by a PhD at The University of Leeds where I studied how genes could affect the development of Alzheimer’s. After my PhD I moved to King’s College London where for the last three years I have been investigating how molecules are transported around brain cells, and trying to work out where this could go wrong in Alzheimer’s disease.

Why did you choose to be a dementia researcher?

I love finding out how things work, and I always wanted to be a scientist. As part of my degree I worked for a year at a pharmaceutical company. I had to apply for the job during the first year of my degree, when I didn’t really know much science, so I had absolutely no idea what the job actually was. It turned out to be looking for drugs for Alzheimer’s disease, which until that point I didn’t know was even a disease (I thought it was just part of getting old). I was surprised to discover that Alzheimer’s was such a hugely prevalent disease, yet I’d never even heard of it, and it had no cure or treatment. I absolutely loved the year of research – I was pretty annoyed that I had to go back to university. It has always been important to me to do something I feel is useful so after finishing my degree I decided to carry on working in dementia.

What does your research focus on?

I am investigating how molecules are transported around brain cells. We think that information in our brains is stored as networks of communicating cells, so the connections between cells are really important – if you lose the connections you lose the network and the information stored in it. In order for the networks of cells to survive, molecules need to be constantly transported from the middle of the cells to the connecting points. If this transport system breaks down (which we know it does in dementia) then the tips of the cells begin to die and connections are lost. I am trying to understand how the transport system works and how it goes wrong in disease.

Why is this area of research important?

A lot of the research into Alzheimer’s has focused on a particular hypothesis, called the ‘amyloid cascade hypothesis’. This research has generated quite a few drugs, but they have all failed clinical trials so far. We urgently need to find new and different targets so we can develop other drugs.

How are you involved with the work of Alzheimer’s Research UK?

Alzheimer’s Research UK has funded my whole career, and I try to support their work any way I can. I am Administrator for our local Alzheimer’s Research UK Network Centre at King’s College London, which links up scientists all working on dementia so we can share resources and ideas. I also do as much public engagement as I can – I give talks about my work to Alzheimer’s Research UK supporters, I visit schools raising awareness of dementia, and I’m involved with the Alzheimer’s Research UK London Supporter Group.

Have you ever done any fundraising for Alzheimer’s Research UK? If so, what and why?

popchoir imageI think if you think something is important, you have to be prepared to do it, you can’t just hope someone will, and I think raising money for dementia research is important. I’m part of the Alzheimer’s Research UK London Supporter group. We are a group of people based in London who work together to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK – it is a lot more fun fundraising with other people (find us on Facebook and Twitter to join in). We have done a few bucket collections in train stations and shopping centres, I organise sweepstakes at work during sporting events, last Christmas I sang all over London with my choir collecting for the charity. We also go and cheer for the Alzheimer’s Research UK supporters taking part in sporting events like the London Marathon. Next year I am hoping to cycle in Ride London for ARUK.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I was recently awarded a grant to start my own research project, which was a huge achievement for me. Writing the application for the project was the first time I felt like a real scientist with my own idea, and it was so rewarding to have a panel of expert scientists decide my idea was good enough to fund.

What advice would you give new scientists embarking on a career in dementia research?

Research can be really exciting, but it can also be hard work with slow progress. You have to really be passionate about what you do.

What do you think is the most promising area of dementia research at the moment?

That is a really hard question! There is so much exciting research going on. If I really had to pick I think the things which I am most interested in right now are projects which investigate very basic cellular processes which go wrong in dementia – things like energy production in the cells, or how the cells destroy old proteins.

If you had to convince someone about the importance of dementia research in one line, what would you say?

Dementia is the biggest killer of women in the UK. We can and we need to change that, and the only way is with more research.

What do you do in your spare time/ outside the lab?

I sing in a choir (I sing a lot inside the lab too). We sing pop songs, and perform at events all over London -and sometimes beyond. I have done loads of really fun stuff with my choir, even appearing on TOWIE! I also do ballet whenever I have time, and I am trying to learn to play the guitar.

What’s the one thing you can’t live without?

Really long really hot showers. I do all my best thinking in the shower.

  • If you’d like to join Lizzie in the Alzheimer’s Research UK London Supporter Group, you can find out more on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Inspired by Lizzie’s work? You can help us fund more amazing scientists – donate today.

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About the author

Dr Laura Phipps