Name: Kirtana Vallabhaneni
CREST Level: Gold
Project Title: Identification of Cell Surface Proteins for Targeting Pancreatic Cancer
Project Mentor / Organisation: Dr Costello, NIHR Pancreatic Biomedical Research Unit, University of Liverpool
Kirtana undertook her CREST Gold Award through the Nuffield Bursary Scheme. She went on to present her work as part of the National Science + Engineering Competition and gained its top prize at senior level, The title of UK Young scientist of the Year 2012. She is now hoping to go on and study Medicine at University College London. She tells us a bit about her CREST experience here.
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What was your project about?
My project was focused around the identification of two cell-surface proteins, CEA and CA19-9 within pancreatic cancer cells. The idea was that this would fit into one of the overarching projects of the department, which was investigating the viability of cell-surface proteins within a nanoparticle-based delivery system of chemotherapy drugs to the pancreas. Under supervision, I learnt how to culture cells and carried out experiments that I had never heard of before, such as immunofluorescence microscopy.
Who encouraged you to get involved with CREST?
My Nuffield Bursary coordinator told me that my project qualified for a CREST award, and it was through her that I applied for one.
What was the best thing about doing a CREST award?
My Bursary placement gave me the chance to have the hands-on experience of participating in research rather than just observing it. I think this was an invaluable tool in that it enhanced my understanding of the area of research, while allowing me to see the process of investigation all of the way from a hypothesis to an interpretation of the results.
Being immersed in the working atmosphere of the laboratory taught me to be flexible in terms of being able to deal with any unforeseen complications with an experiment. I also saw the importance of good communication and interaction between members of the team, which came in useful for presenting my research project and poster at the at the Big Bang Fair.
How do you think you benefited from your CREST Award experience?
I think that the confidence the CREST award gave me, as well as the improvement of my ability to research independently and take active control of my learning were all helpful during revision for my exams.
Having the opportunity to present my project to members of the public allowed me to develop my presentation skills, and it was a brilliant opportunity for all of the participants to display the work they had taken great pride in carrying out.
Being judged was both a nerve-wracking but enjoyable experience, particularly when I was judged by the celebrity panel. I also met lots of lovely people there! It was a unique experience and wouldn’t have happened to me if I hadn’t participated in a Nuffield Bursary placement.
What are your hopes for the future?
For a while, I have wanted to pursue a career in medicine, and my experience has definitely influenced me in that I would definitely like to carry out medical research as part of career. The experience opened my eyes to the scope and diversity of areas of research, which makes it very appealing to me. Seeing doctors work alongside scientists within the laboratory showed me that a scientific career and a medical career don’t necessarily have to be separate choices.
Any wise words to those thinking of undertaking a CREST Award now?
I would say to definitely go ahead and do it. It is such a brilliant opportunity, and a chance to pursue something you are passionate about at a level you would probably never reach in a classroom. Also, CREST awards are useful at events such as the National Science + Engineering Competition, enabling you to qualify for awards that you otherwise couldn’t compete for, which would be a shame if you’d put in the time and effort on something such as a Nuffield Bursary.