Rachel Dakin

If you sent me a question to answer I'm not allowed now I'm evicted :( sorry!

Favourite Thing: Extracting DNA from things (fruit, cells, spit!!) – it’s so cool that in just a few steps you can see the DNA in front of your eyes! (by the way this says favourite thing to do in science on my screen!)



Pershore High School & Sixth Form (1997-2003), University of Manchester (2003-2007), University of Edinburgh (2007-2012)


10 GCSEs, A-levels – Biology, Chemistry, Maths, BSc (Hons) Biochemistry with Industrial Experience, MSc – Cardiovascular Biology, PhD- Cardiovascular BIology

Work History:

University of Edinburgh – Tutor and Laboratory Demonstrator, University of Glasgow – Research Scientist, Glasgow Science Centre – Science Communicator, Mayo Clinic Florida – research student and holiday jobs in various pubs and a pharmacy

Current Job:

I’m a research scientist – working in the institute of cardiovascular and medical sciences


University of Glasgow

Me and my work

I work with viruses; but instead of making you ill I want to use them to make you better

My aim is to treat diseases in the blood vessels using viruses to deliver the therapy. When the walls of a blood vessel get thicker it leaves less space for the blood to flow which can lead to heart attacks or strokes. It’s very tricky to get medicines in to blood vessel walls. Even if a drug is injected in to your blood stream it can be broken down quite quickly and won’t stick to the vessel wall. Scientists have found that we can use viruses to deliver drugs in to the blood vessel walls (and many other organs).

My work uses adenoviruses that can cause colds in babys and children. However, we have changed their DNA and removed the parts which would make you ill when you come in to contact with them. My job is to try and make these viruses attach to the blood vessel walls and pass on medicines. I can alter how well the virus attachs to the blood vessel wall by changing it’s DNA. My aim is to make a virus that attachs to the blood vessel wall and very little else!

Other people in my lab are working on biological medicines we can attach to the virus – these include genes which will stop the blood vessel walls from getting thicker or even stem cells which might help heal a blood vessel that is already damaged.

My Typical Day

Looking after cells and playing with DNA

After a quick check of my emails I normally start my day by checking on cells I’m working with. The cells are a bit like my children – I have to check they look healthy everyday, feed them and remove their waste. I work with ‘cell lines’ this means the cells are all the same and come from 1 original place. I also work with ‘primary cells’ these come from tissue samples and are prepared in the lab. We work with cells from human blood vessels. We get bits of blood vessel that are left over from operations, we peel off the layer of cells we need and then grow them in a flask. This means every flask has come from a different person. These cells are really important as they mean I can test my viruses on real human cells.

After dealing with my cells I plan what else I need to do that day, this normally involves working with DNA. To try and make my virus attach to blood vessels I use ‘molecular biology’. I might change the sequence of the DNA, cut bits of DNA up, stick different bits of DNA together or check sequences of DNA. There are lots of steps and it can take weeks to make my new sequence of DNA.

I also make and purify batches of virus. This is done in my cells (good job I checked them!) we get lots of flasks and add the virus to them. The virus will go in to the cells and after a few days it has made lots of copies of itself that I need to collect. Once I’ve collected all the cells I do lots of REALLY fast spins in a centrifuge (it’s a bit like a fairground round for the cells, they get spun really fast and heavy things sink faster than light things) and can eventually collect my pure virus.

As well as working in the lab I attend quite a few meetings. Some with my whole department, some with my lab and some with just a few people – these all allow us to know what people are doing and get help when things aren’t working.

Outside of work I like to keep fit and I play netball with a local club. I also like watching films and try and got to the cinema most weeks – nothing to do with science but these are good parts of my typical day!

What I'd do with the money

make new hands-on science activities to take to schools in deprived areas

I love to tell people about my research and why keeping healthly is so important. There are lots of very good science festivals and many schools ask for scientists to visit to talk to pupils however these often do not extend to more deprived areas of the city. Glasgow University and Science Festival have started an initiative to go to schools and set up events in these communitites. I want to be part of these events so I need to update my activities (they are very homemade at the moment!). Cardiovascular disease is very common in these communitites so I hope to help people understand how they can keep themselves healthly and reduce their chance of getting such diseases. I also want to get people excited about science and realise we’re not all geeks in white coats (well only sometimes)!!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

talkative, energetic and busy

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I don’t think I have a favourite though I sometimes like to pretend I’m Beyonce……

What's your favourite food?

Steak (that’s a hard question – I LOVE food!)

What is the most fun thing you've done?

lived in Florida for a year

What did you want to be after you left school?

When I was young I wanted to be a nurse, then a vet and probably lots of other things

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

mainly for talking too much. I do remember hiding my friend in the hockey goalkeepers kit bag – we got in quite a lot of trouble for that!

What was your favourite subject at school?

maths and PE

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

travelled to different countries to present my work and hear what other scientists are doing

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I really liked science and helping people so that led me to wanting to do medical research; hopefully helping a lot of people all at once

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

probably a teacher. In my dreams I’d be a dancer, I LOVE Strictly Come Dancing (!) and think it would be amazing to do that every week – my only hope now is to become famous ;-)

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

(1) To be able to travel around South America and the Carribean (2) to have a private jet – I spend a lot of time and money travelling to see my family and friends (3) to be in Strictly Come Dancing!!

Tell us a joke.

What do you call a fish with no eyes? A fsh

Other stuff

Work photos:

Here you can see a blood vessel that was sent to the lab from a nearby hospital. We get the cells from the blood vessel wall and grow them in flasks myimage1.

This year I convinced a group of scientists from my lab to take part in the Glasgow Science Festival – look how much we enjoyed it! myimage3.

Our activities need updating. This is a heart-bypass game I made but cardboard and sticky-back plastic don’t last very long!! myimage2 I would use the £500 prize money to make similar activities that will hopefully last a bit longer.

This is a picture of me feeding my cells. We only wear the blue lab coats when we’re working with cells this helps to stop the transfer of other chemicals and bacteria in to the cells. Sometimes on a Friday afternoon I go a bit crazy and wear boxhead……….myimage4