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Spotlight: Sadaf Ashraf, Scientist at University of Aberdeen

Tell us a fun fact about yourself

I am an artist at heart, I love to paint, especially still life and landscapes.

Tell us about your career journey so far

I obtained my BSc in Physiology and MSc in Immunology from King’s College London before pursuing a PhD in Rheumatology at University of Nottingham. Since then I have worked at several Universities in the UK conducting scientific research before moving to the University of Aberdeen. I am working on finding new treatments for arthritis and joint pain.

What was your favourite subject in school and why?

The obvious answer would be Science! Which is true, I really enjoyed studying Human Biology. I am fascinated with how the human body works at a cellular and molecular level. In addition to that, I absolutely loved Art and I still do.

What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?

Studying a Biomedical Science or a Biological Science subject is essential, this can include, but is not limited to, Genetics, Microbiology, Physiology, Anatomy and Immunology. At times, there will be on the job training where you will be learning skills specific to the project. Obtaining a doctorate (PhD) ensures you become a specialist in your field.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

It is exciting to know that I am working on new aspects of arthritis research that have not been explored before. Making scientific discoveries and publishing them is exhilarating. There is never a dull moment, I get to attend conferences and publicise my research work all over the world. In addition, a significant part of my job involves teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students through delivering lectures/tutorials and supervising laboratory based projects.

What is a normal day in your role like?

Being a Scientist, I work in a research laboratory, where I plan and execute experiments that include processing and analysing preclinical and clinical samples related to arthritis disease. The goal is to make new discoveries that will ultimately enable us to understand the disease process better so that we can find new treatments and improve the quality of life of people living with arthritis. A considerable part of my work involves spending time in my office, in front of the computer, planning for lectures/teaching and writing scientific manuscripts/papers on my research findings for publishing.

Suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?

Arthritis affects our joint function and leads to bone changes. Bones need to be strong, and how strong they are depends on how much of the mineral calcium carbonate they contain. We can find the content of calcium carbonate in the bones by conducting the following experiment (make sure you get an adult to help you). Get a dried, clean chicken bone (leg/wing bone) and try bending it (not too hard or it will break!), notice how stiff the bone is. Immerse the bone in a glass containing white vinegar for 2-3 days. Add fresh vinegar, and let the bone soak for another 2 days. After which, take the bone out, dry it and try bending it again (without breaking it!), the bone is much softer now! This is because the acid in the vinegar dissolves the calcium carbonate from the bone and all that you are left with is collagen (another building block of bones) which is much softer, illustrating an important function of bones in our body, to provide support.


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