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To mark International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we are celebrating by highlighting some of the MDC and Lighthouse Lab women who play a vital part in making drug discovery happen.

Ana-Maria Tomova – Bioscience lead

Ana-Maria, who has a background in biomedical science and research, completed a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology prior to her position at Lighthouse Labs. Day-to-day her role involves the management of the lab and processing samples in a safe and efficient manner. During her PhD, Ana-Maria investigated the effects of neuropeptides on human sperm function and fertility. Although it’s not as male-dominated as what it once was, Ana-Maria still hopes that more girls consider a career in the sector. Ana-Maria is a proud mother who has helped inspire her own daughter, who now has a love of science. Although she thinks her mum’s job is “awesome”, she is more a fan of astrophysics than molecular biology

Stacey Collister – Senior Training Scientist

Stacey Collister is responsible for training scientists, bioscience leads and laboratory technicians at the Lighthouse Laboratories in Alderley Park. Stacey was inspired by Rosalind Franklin, a chemist and crystallographer whose research and x-ray data analysis informed the molecular structure of DNA. This helped inspire Stacey’s interest in Electron Microscopy (EM) which forms parts of her PhD work. As a keen advocate for women in science, Stacey is a member of the Royal Society of Biology, the Biochemical Society, and the British Crystallographic Association. Despite the disappointment of having to pause her own research, Stacey has been astounded by the melting pot of experience and knowledge on show at the Lighthouse Laboratories.

Aamina Ali – Lab Scientist

Having recently graduated from the University of Manchester with a degree in Biomedical Sciences, Aamina is one of the many lab scientists at Lighthouse Laboratories. Aamina extracts RNA from samples which are then analysed in the lab, playing a vital role in identifying infection rates across the UK. Aamina comments that although everyone in the labs brings a vast and varied wealth of experience, when they work together for a common goal, the results are inspiring. She goes on to say: “Girls who are debating a career in science should 100% go for it. The sector is no longer as male-dominated as it used to be, and projects such as Lighthouse Laboratories are a testament to this”.

Maria Cozan- Lab Scientist

After recently graduating from the University of Manchester with a degree in Neuroscience, Maria is now a lab scientist at Alderley Park Lighthouse Lab. Maria takes her positive outlook into her role, stating that “everyday is an opportunity to learn something new, whether it is about yourself, other people or the world we live in”. During her placement year, Maria was involved in a project that sought to develop innovative drugs to treat Alzheimers in its early stages. Just as the pandemic has took all our lives down an unexpected avenue, Maria states that it’s the “diversions” that help you grow as a scientist. She urges all young women contemplating careers in science to “never give up, no matter how hard it gets”.

Heidi Oldfield – Scientific Purchasing Manager

Heidi’s role as Scientific Purchasing Manager, has her overseeing everything from negotiating large contracts for consumables, through to unloading reagents from dry ice. She says, the variety and excitement in her everyday role, along with knowing she is a part of a monumental testing network is what makes her job worthwhile. Heidi came to science later in life as a mature student studying Bio-Veterinary Science. Heidi said: “I never would have dreamed of becoming a scientist. I never had a privileged upbringing and I had to work extremely hard to get my Science Diploma and my degree. This was by far my greatest achievement and it’s proof that anyone can do it if they put their mind to it!”

Ria Horsely – Automation Scientist

Ria recently became a part of the automation team following her role as Bioscience lead, and is responsible for maintaining the machinery that is crucial to processing tests. Since working at the Lighthouse Labs, Ria comments on the importance of collaboration:

“It’s not just one single person or team that makes a project like this work, it’s the combination of teams and departments working together and sharing knowledge that makes it possible”. Ria refers to the automation team as “Charlie’s Angels”, and comments that women considering a career in science should “go for it, what’ stopping you?”.

Maria Ooi – Bioscience Floor Lead

As Bioscience floor lead, Maria is an accomplished process manager responsible for overseeing the operation of the labs. With over 16 years’ industry experience, Maria comments on the importance of fostering “a sense of family” among team members, driven by a culture of “continuous improvement”.

Maria says:

“Working on Covid-19 sample testing in MDC-Lighthouse Labs has been extraordinary, and it’s made easier by the group of capable, diverse and inspiring team members who make it possible.

“To play a vital part in keeping the nation safe is quite a humbling experience, and it wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and dedication of everyone at Lighthouse Labs”.

Maria is also a proud mother to two girls, Sophia and Diana, who are both inspired by their mum’s hard-work and dedication as a scientist.

Kate Elson – Quality Manager

As Quality Manager, Kate plays a vital role in ensuring that operations at the Lighthouse Labs are compliant with regulatory standards and that teams are working safely and effectively. Kate started as a trainee biomedical scientist in 2008, working her way up to a role as Quality and Training Lead at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Essex before the pandemic hit.

Addressing women considering a career in science, she said;

“A career in science gives you a way to understand the world, and even to make it better.

“Science affects everyone, and your unique perspective on the world could really provide something vital. The more women we have who are visible and leading the way in science, the more accessible it will be to girls and young women who dream of becoming scientists in the future”.

Gayle Marshall – Lead Scientist

As the Lead Scientist at MDC, Gayle is responsible for translational medicine. Having spent her career in the pharmaceutical industry, Gayle has a wealth of experience in bringing new medicines to the forefront. Although it’s something she has never reflected on, she strongly believes that being a woman in science has never stopped her from doing anything.

Gayle comments on how she’s grateful to have her dream career along with a loving family who support her along the way.

“Being a part of the Lighthouse Labs nationwide project has been a whirlwind experience which I know I’ll never forget. Without the support of our incredibly clever and innovative team, it wouldn’t have been possible”.

 Eleanor Platt – Molecular Scientist

As a molecular scientist, Eleanor says the thought that her work will one day have a positive impact on people is what gets her up in the morning. After losing a close relative to cancer, Eleanor’s reading around molecular biology helped her understand and deal with the loss, and since then she’s been driven to help others through her work.

“I have been lucky to work in some fantastic companies with some amazing mentors, many of whom have been women. I’ve rarely felt the need to justify why I wanted to go into a STEM career, however I know that this may not have been the case 50 years ago. Without the hard work and professionalism of my predecessors, careers in science would be nowhere near as accessible to women as they are today”.

Mairead Hyland – Bioscience Lead

Working on the night shift while the nation sleeps, Mairead leads a team of scientists who tirelessly work to ensure that samples are analysed and processed correctly. While currently working through the final stages of her PhD in Cell and Tissue Engineering, Mairead plays a vital role in ensuring that the Lighthouse Lab in Alderley Park helps to keep people safe and protected 24/7. In her role, she’s learned “the importance of communication between different workstations” and has been impressed by her team’s hard work and dedication. Earlier in her career, Mairead worked on a project that involved analysing tiny particles released by umbilical cord stem cells, designed to see if they have anti-inflammatory properties; a project she is especially proud of.

Sophie Nyberg – Lab Floor Lead

Sophie works in the Complex Cell Models team, developing relevant cell models for applications such as testing new small molecule drugs and complex medicines. For Sophie, life is a journey of discovery driven by the questions “what if?” and “why?”, and she believes that “the more questions you answer, the more questions start to appear”. Commenting on the essential role of women in the industry, Sophie said: “I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by inspiring women in science throughout my career; to constantly be reminded of what’s possible for me as a woman has probably had a bigger impact on me than I realise. That said, I’ve always felt empowered to be a scientist, and have never felt like I didn’t belong. While it is a good sign, I recognise that not everyone has had that experience, and we need to continue to be advocates for women in science”.

Read about our COVID scientists as they share their experience of battling the pandemic – Fighting the Pandemic and the Glass Ceiling – All in a Days Work >

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