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Hear from Charlotte Dixon

Volunteering at Public Health England

"Hi, I’m Charlotte and I’m currently completing the fourth year of my MBio Biomedical Science degree at my industrial placement at Public Health England (PHE), Porton Down.

Porton Down has a lot of history dating back to the First World War, so I was interested to see what happened behind closed doors, even just at the interview stage. I started my placement at Public Health England in October 2019, and since being here I’ve gained a number of opportunities and experiences, some of which you could say are 'once in a lifetime'.

My placement project is focused on non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi), a bacteria that causes a range of diseases from otitis media to acute exacerbation in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, with cases increasing each year. I’m investigating the effects that the complement system has on a range of NTHi samples from different disease sites, in the hope that the data collected can be used for a vaccine.

Recent developments in the world has caused Public Health England to mainly focus all its work on Coronavirus. One way in which they have been helping, is deploying their staff to hospital labs to assist in the diagnostics of samples from people suspected to have Coronavirus. I have volunteered for deployment, which will involve me working for 7 days in a hospital lab, testing the thousands of samples that arrive each day. In addition to this, we are running a number of projects in the hope of quickly developing a vaccine for Coronavirus. Although a lot of the work needs to be done by highly trained staff, the rest of the work can be carried out by the remainder of the research staff, which includes myself. I will be involved in running immunological assays specific to Coronavirus, as my project also requires me to run immunological assays on NTHi, therefore I have the right skill set.

I’m extremely grateful and excited to assist in a pandemic that is affecting the world. Although this is terrible time for everyone, from a research point of view it’s fascinating to see the work that is taking place and being able to help as well. Academically, this placement and the work on Coronavirus have allowed me to observe the differences between academic, industrial and clinical research as well as develop a vast range of lab skills.

On a personal level, it’s inspirational to see how all departments across Public Health England band together, to aid in an important cause that affects the health of people worldwide. Based on my placement year and the three years I have spent studying biomedical science, after graduation I plan to undertake an industrial PhD, so that I can carry on my love of research, as well as being the first person to volunteer my help if another pandemic was to occur in the future."

Charlotte Dixon
Life Sciences, undergraduate student

Charlotte Dixon, UG student