Sarah Sobka

“My project was better than I expected - my supervisor was very friendly and helped me take my knowledge from Biology AS-level to that required for professional research. I really loved the fact that I was able to play a small role in a larger piece of work that could improve the lives of people suffering from cystic fibrosis, which is the best feeling of all!”

What was your project about and did you know anything about the area before getting started?

My project looked at the drug lubiprostone, which is currently used to treat irritable bowel syndrome in women, and whether any of its properties could be utilised in the treatment of cystic fibrosis. The genetic condition affects over 10,000 people in the UK and current drug treatments are expensive and only work for suffers with specific mutations in the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis. I had heard about the disease before and knew a little about its genetics from my studies, but I was able to delve into the molecular basis of the condition in much greater detail during my placement which was absolutely fascinating.

How did your supervisor help you with your project work?

By offering to host me in her lab, my supervisor helped me immensely before I had even started. I gained an amazing insight into the reality of cutting-edge medical research. I was shown how to culture human cells and use an Ussing Chamber to investigate the properties of cell membranes. I had excellent guidance on how to analyse and interpret large sets of experimental data too. My supervisor’s enthusiasm for the area was evident and I was continuously encouraged to ask questions to increase my understanding of the topic.

What were the key things you gained from the placement?

I gained a lot of knowledge about the nature of cystic fibrosis on a cellular level which was extremely beneficial. One of the most important lessons I learnt was that research requires a lot of patience as it is a painstaking process ensuring that collected data is of the highest possible quality. The nature of collaboration in science also became apparent to me – communication between different researchers is an important part of moving scientific knowledge forward.

Has your experience helped you decided on a career path?

Yes, most definitely – being exposed to the reality of medical research has made me want to pursue this area further. I would love to continue looking at cystic fibrosis at university as part of my degree. After graduating, my dream is to combine a job as both a clinician and a medical researcher, so that I can hopefully benefit as many patients as possible.

What was it like presenting your work at the National Science + Engineering Competition?

The whole experience was amazingly positive. It’s great to be able to communicate your work to others and explain the importance of research to the general public. I am exceedingly grateful to the Nuffield Foundation for providing me with this opportunity. I would definitely encourage all Nuffield students to put forward their work for the competition.