Introducing PhD Student Brendan Norman

In this week's blog, we talk to Brendan Norman, a PhD student at the University Of Liverpool, about his research into what can be learnt about AKU using mass spectrometry.

What is mass spectrometry?

 
Mass spectrometry is a technique for separating the different chemical compounds within a given material. Once the material has a chemical charge applied to it (known as ‘ionisation’), its constituent molecules can be separated according to their unique chemical properties; mass and charge. In general, larger molecules will travel through space slower than smaller molecules, and so separation occurs in this way.
The ability to separate and selectively measure compounds present in complex mixtures such as blood and urine makes mass spectrometry ideal for diagnosing and monitoring clinical conditions. The aim is usually to measure specific molecules that are known indicators of a particular disease. Mass spectrometry continues to be used in this way at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital as an important part of the AKU clinical trials.

 

How do you help AKU patients and DevelopAKUre / what do you analyse and why?

 

My PhD research project aims to help AKU patients through learning new things about AKU using mass spectrometry. I have been analysing samples from AKU patients such as blood and urine. Blood and urine usually contain thousands of different compounds, and the levels of these give us a ‘snapshot’ of a person’s health and the processes occurring throughout their entire body.
While much of clinical mass spectrometry targets only specific compounds of interest, the technology I use aims to detect and identify as many different compounds as possible within the sample. The idea of this is to compare samples from AKU patients with those from the general population. This will help us to discover new compounds that are linked with AKU, and which can, therefore, tell us about currently unknown biological processes underlying AKU symptoms such as osteoarthritis. Knowledge of these processes could point us towards new therapies aimed at preventing or even reversing them in future. For me, it’s great to learn an advanced analytical technique but it's more important that my research has translational value.
We can learn so much from each sample that we receive from AKU patients, but larger sample numbers are useful when trying to prove that there are true differences between the compounds present in AKU patients compared with the general population. This is why every sample we receive is really valuable to us and is treated with great care and attention.

 

What do you do in your spare time?

 

I have recently taken up rock climbing which I would really recommend to anyone who hasn’t tried it. It’s a great workout and more fun than the gym! I was once a decent golfer but this has taken a backseat of late – even Dr Peter Wilson (http://www.developakure.eu/dak-blog/introducing-dr-peter-wilson) could probably beat me now! I also like to cook for family and friends whenever I get the chance.

 




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