Dr Linda Popplewell
What do you do here at Royal Holloway?
I have worked at Royal Holloway for nearly ten years now. I started on a part-time basis as a working mum, as a postdoctoral research scientist, building up my hours as my children got older. Very recently, with Royal Holloway’s backing, I won a prestigious grant award from Muscular Dystrophy UK to become a lecturer with a focus on research.
What is your main area of research specialism?
As a postdoc, I worked for Professor George Dickson, a world leader in the development of gene therapies for muscular dystrophy, in particular Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). DMD is caused by mutations in the dystrophin gene, which normally encodes a protein that performs important structural roles in skeletal muscle. When dystrophin is absent, the muscles progressively breakdown and waste away, eventually leaving affected boys wheelchair-bound and on respiratory support.
DMD patients generally die in their 30s from the disease. Currently there is no preventative treatment for this devastating disease using traditional medicines, so the development of a gene therapy is vital. Excitingly, the work we have performed at Royal Holloway has led to a number of clinical trials in DMD patients. With Professor Dickson’s support, I will be working on this new grant to develop combination gene therapies that address the genetic fault that caused muscular dystrophy, and also the muscle wasting and muscle fibrosis associated with the disease. This will enable the dystrophin protein that is expressed to perform to its maximum potential, thereby providing enhanced clinical benefit to DMD patients.
How do you use this in your teaching?
Third year Biomedical undergraduates spend ten weeks in a lab performing a research project. Through this in-depth hands-on experience of a research lab, it’s great to be able to inspire these students on the first steps to a rewarding research career. Many of these students have gone on to do PhDs in renowned labs or to work in industry as graduate scientists.
To add to student value, I use examples of the research we’re performing to aid learning during my lectures on genetic basis of disease and the development of gene therapies to treat those diseases.
What inspired you about Royal Holloway?
Royal Holloway is a beautiful place and I love working here. I was attracted here because of the high quality investigative work that’s performed within Biological Sciences, made possible through fantastic research facilities. With the support of an outstanding Research and Enterprise department, patenting of novel work is encouraged, allowing the establishment of strong links with industry.