They grow up so fast – MRes Jan 2018 edition

Another new year, another new “They grow up so fast” post. This time its the turn of four MRes Clinical Sciences students that have been with our lab for the past 3 months.

Today, the students were presenting their work at a poster session in the Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease.

Four projects, all different in topic, direction and approach. My lab meetings have been not only large but also really stimulating. Much coffee required to stay on top of it all.

Lizzy Lourenco

20180112_123035(0)Picked up the next stage of the sunscreen studies we did last year (blog posts here, here and here). Using our UV sensitive camera and automated segmentation and analyses algorithms, Lizzy assessed the application habits of people using SPF moisturisers. Her project got lots of help; Gabriela Czanner for stats and design, Yalin Zheng and Harry Pratt for image analysis, Austin McCormick and myself for overall design and direction and Conro helped train Lizzy to get high quality images. Conro also took the pics in this post…. not sure how good a trainer he really was!).

Going in to this study, we expected less moisturiser to be applied in terms of volume compared to the sunscreens but that the users would be more thorough in terms of the coverage of the eyelids; our previous study showed the eyelids to be frequently missed/avoided with sunscreen. Turns out, we weren’t quite right; moisturiser application was actually even worse than the sunscreens. Intriguing. This leads to an important public health message- moisturisers are better than nothing but you still need eye protection. An abstract from this work is already submitted to the big dermatology meeting and we’ll write up the manuscript soon.

EDIT: Lizzy won joint second prize for her poster!

Laura Bowker



Laura picked one of our molecular biology projects and worked with Thanos Papadimitropolous on part of his PhD project looking at an RNA therapeutic for a rare eye disorder called aniridia.

I think its fair to say that Laura experienced the full rollercoaster of emotions that accompanies most hypothesis testing scientific research; hope in the early periods, confusion as things don’t work, despair as the time ticks down and finally something close to joy (or perhaps just relief) as the final experiments finally start to deliver data.

Of course, at that point she had to stop. Genuinely, her poster and project write up changed in the last week from “this idea doesn’t work” to “actually, it’s got a chance”

EDIT: Laura won joint second prize with her poster!

Nikitha Pasunu



Nikitha worked on one of our laminin projects, looking see if we can influence a “splicing switch” that some of our other work suggests goes wrong in squamous cell carcinoma. She worked with the help and guidance of two current PhD students and former MResers Conro Conro Sugden and Liam Shaw in trying to use an RNA approach to flip the switch back again.

Like Laura, Nikitha picked up a project early on its development and so a lot of her time was establishing the model, testing ranges of concentrations and timepoints. To be fair, this is what most time in the lab is spent doing so these 10 week projects are probably a fair reflection of that. Nikitha also ended up with some promising looking results that need lots of further confirmation but could be cool if they keep going the same way. This work will continue thanks to support from North West Cancer Research with Lee Troughton working on the project.

Elizabeth Attree

img_0566Lizzie #2 worked on a project with Dr Valentina Barrera that harks back to Vale’s time before the Hamill lab where she worked on Malarial Retinopathy in Malawian children. In this project Lizzie used immunohistochemistry and histological stains to investigate if and how a range of changes to vessels in the retina can predict disease severity, using the retina as a window to the brain. As always with Valentina involved, lots of really nice images of tissue staining were gathered and it turned into a well developed project.

It’s been fun, productive and hopefully enlightening for the students.


poster day


And so it begins…

Hi!  I’m Conro Sugden (aka Conor), and I’ll start my PhD in the Hamill Lab in October investigating  the mechanisms through which age and disease associated alveolar epithelial matrix changes drive development and progression of pulmonary fibrosis. This isn’t my first time being a part of the Hamill Lab; Dr. Hamill was my supervisor for 2 x 12 week projects during my MRes.

I studied my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry here in Liverpool, taking the chance to complete a sandwich placement at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain (see below). Here I got my first taste of what it was like to be a research student, where I was part of a group developing novel plasmids to analyse Leishmania parasites.

Three Firsts

Three firsts: (Left to right) The first picture I took in Pamplona; My first conference poster; The first image I captured of Leishmania major parasites expressing our pXG-mCherry plasmid (kinetoplasts appear blue after staining with DAPI).

Following my undergraduate degree, I completed an MRes in Clinical Sciences, completing 3 x 12-week projects (2 of these projects, here and here, were supervised by Dr. Hamill!) in the Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease, and this is where I fell in love with matrix biology. My work in the Hamill Lab so far has involved (with the help of Lee Troughton) using minigene constructs to investigate intron retention with alternative polyadenylation (IRPA) in the LAMA3, and then following up this research testing ways we can manipulate this ratio. The data from these projects has been exciting and encouraging, and I’m glad that I get to carry on being a part of this.

During my time in the Hamill Lab I’ve attended my first Burns night, an awesome ‘Assembly, Dynamics and Organisation of Filaments and Cellular Responses’ workshop at Durham University, and I’ve helped with the ‘Sunscreen Challenge’ at Meet the Scientists and other outreach events.

Time in the Hamill Lab

From my time in the Hamill Lab so far: (Left to right) Project 2 presentation; project 3 poster; Sunscreen Challenge preparation.

I’m in the process of becoming a STEM ambassador, and I’m planning to bring the ‘Sunscreen Challenge’ to my old high school so that I can talk to the students about what it means to be a research student. Alongside my PhD research I’ll continue with the outreach activities, and I’ve also enrolled onto a Spanish language course (can’t let myself forget everything I learned when I was over there – I will be fluent one day!). Recently I wrote for The Biochemist blog about the link between inflammation and fibrosis, you can find that here.

Going forward, I couldn’t be happier to begin my PhD in the Hamill Lab. The atmosphere is great, as are the lab members. The research currently being carried out is extremely exciting, and I can’t wait to get stuck in and make my contribution to the field.

Thanks for reading,



Valentina en route to viva!!!

Hello readers!

It’s Valentina here, the first PhD student to have joined the Hamill’s lab. I am writing my first article on a very special day…on my way to Dundee to defend my thesis! It’s been a really cool adventure, full of incredible discoveries. 

When I have started, the only available data on LaNts were related to the skin; after three years and many exciting experiments we now know the effects of LaNt a31 in the cornea…which may seem only a little organ of the body, but how amazing is it to be able to see the world?! We have loads of beautiful videos of live laminin’s deposition from corneal epithelial cells and we have established a LaNt a31 overexpression animal model, the first one ever! 

Working in this lab has been fantastic and hopefully today I will be able to transmit my excitement to the examiners 🙂 If my work could open at least one more door to future projects and ideas, then I’ll be doubly proud. 

Going on, the Hamill lab, laminins and LaNts are waiting to be completely undercovered 🙂  much more to follow on this exciting topic…

Soon to be (hopefully) Dr. Vale 

Lee in teaching mode


Lee (second from right) in small group teaching mode.

Lee Troughton has been with my lab for almost 4 years now (MRes and PhD) and as the time has passed I have relied more and more heavily on him to know what is going on in the lab and helping everyone new get going. With each passing year as the number of people in my group and my teaching and administration commitments grow this is becoming more and more apparent; whenever I say to a new student that they should do XX experiment it is almost always immediately followed by “Lee was doing that recently, get him to show you his protocol ….etc”

A new level has been reached today where he is now teaching small groups of students. Not just from my lab, he’s the guy to go to for multiple departments within the institute! The image above has Lee teaching western blotting to people working on muscular skeletal biology, glaucoma, and aniridia at MRes and PhD level and at least three other MRes from two other PIs were out of shot when I took this.

The thing is, Lee is in his last 5 months in the lab and is frantically trying to submit two manuscripts and has the small matter of a thesis to write before his funding finishes in November! Obviously I should get him to focus on his own work but its just too valuable to the team and to the others in the institute.

This has been going on for ages, so why the blog post? Well, I was amused by an email that I was cc’d into last night where he set out his practical class to the 8 people in his western lesson… mostly for the final line which has really struck home how much above and beyond he really is going. Well played Lee.

Will be doing some blots tomorrow, from start to primary Ab incubation overnight @4*C.  I have sent the protocol I use out already, remember that this is by no means the best for you, but it has been optimized for my proteins of interest, using the equipment and reagents we have.

9am- making the acrylamide gels

11am- running the gels

12pm- setting up the transfer

2.30pm- imaging the membrane and blocking

4-pm- adding the primary Ab

Then on Thursday:

9am- washing the membrane

9.15am- adding the second Ab

10.30am- washing the membrane

11am- imaging the membrane


I have loads to do tomorrow, and have our journal club 10-11am, so will have to crack on from the times stated above.




They grow up so fast – NWCR symposium

Today was the Northwest Cancer Research annual symposium held in the stunning, Harry Potter-esque, Victoria Gallery on the IMG_20130714_180621
University of Liverpool campus.

Lots of excellent, inspiring talks including two of my long-term favourites; actin remodelling and RhoGTPases, and integrin signalling. The notebook is full of the next set of experiments and grant ideas! (Thanks Mark)

There was also a thoroughly impressive poster session, displaying the diverse, excellent cancer research work going on in Liverpool, Bangor and Lancaster.

Included in that  poster session, Lee Troughton and Valentina Barrera

C-fSHW1XoAI6tn2.jpg-largepresented our new splice regulation story in LAMA3 that is beginning to really take off. Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to grab a photo with Vale so its just Lee on this edition of the obligatory “they grow up so fast”.

Lee moaned extensively about his quads hurting while squatting down to take this picture so I made him pose for 10 more, saying it was out of focus…

I also captured his response to finding out about the unnecessary extras. Totally worth it


Mini (or squatting) Lee



They grow up so fast – MRes Spring 2017

April time again and the end of another block of MRes Clinical Sciences projects. This time the Hamill lab hosted three students; Kareem Hassanin, Conro Conro Sugden and Tobi Oyewole. Today the boys had their presentations/poster session.

First up; Conro told his story of developing our new minigene construct to investigate LaNt regulation and testing a few mutant versions of it to prove it works. Conor, with Lee Troughton’s help, did some excellent work; generating flo2017-04-13 15.38.50w cytometry,
RT-PCR, western blotting and fluorescence microscopy images that demonstrate that our new system is effective for studying intron retention and alternative polyadenylation and showing that the exon 9 splice site has a big role to play in determining splicing efficiency. His data has gone straight into a grant application and should form the starting point for the next stage of the LaNt project.

Next, Tobi under 20170413_120630the joint supervision of myself and Colin Willoughby and working alongside Fight For Sight student Thanos, worked on determining the optimal delivery mechanism and conditions for delivering small RNA molecules into corneal epithelial cells. This work is critical first step for the the next stage of Thanos’ PhD studies and, although Tobi was frustrated at times, makes a big difference to the lab. Optimisation is the biggest part of all experiments, without these steps we wouldn’t be able to ask the big questions.

Finally, Kareem working alongside Dr Valentina Barrera and using samples kindly provided by Prof Geor20170413_141809ge Bou Gharios, optimised our new rabbit anti-mouse LaNt antibody staining protocol and then did the first staining of embryos and various tissues in the adult. These are really short projects and filled with frustration as just at the very end, Kareem finally had conditions nailed down to get super clean, specific, staining that has opened up a whole range of new options and research questions. One thousand emails bounced back and forward yesterday as he tried to identify all the structures that were and were not stained. Although super cool, really this is just the beginning; knowing where the protein is automatically generates the question of what it is doing in that location as we predict that LaNt function is context specific, so these data too will lay the groundwork for the next grant(s) and next paper.

All in all, a really productive 3 months. Looking forward to the next block…


They grow up so fast – BSID 2017 edition

This week PhD student Lee Troughton and I have been attending the British Society for Investigative Dermatology meeting in exotic Manchester.

Lee presented some of our recent findings in poster form. This is the first time we have rolled out this new story and, so far, the response has been very positive.

Loads of data including contributions from Valentina Barrera and Conro Sugden. If anyone in the IACD was wondering why Lee was frantically running 1000s of qPCRs last week, check out the graphs in the bottom left. Nothing like the impending deadline to give a sense of urgency! However, the findings are really interesting and have opened up some really nice questions.

It’s also cool to be back at the BSID after many years away. I think my first “real” conference presentation was at a BSID in Oxford during my PhD where I presented some of our very preliminary data describing the first identification of the alternative splice isoforms that we now call the LaNts. It’s really cool to be back and to see many of the people I know in the skin field and learn about all the excellent derm research going on in the UK.


Lee looking chuffed at his bold colour choices

They grow up so fast…. PhD thesis submission edition!

Today the pride levels are extra high. Valentina Iorio submitted her PhD thesis!!!

It’s in

Valentina was the first person to join my lab. I interviewed her whilst still in Chicago and was super impressed with not only her academic ability but also her bubbly personality. I have never looked back. 

It’s been an amazing three and a bit years; loads of impressive data, some incredibly cool live cell imaging videos of LaNts and laminin and even during the tough times, when things weren’t working and when reviewer two was needlesslessy negative, Vale faced it all with a smile. 

The end result is an excellent very readable thesis. She will defend sometime in June but at this time on behalf of myself, Carl Sheridan and George Bou Gharios;

Well done Vale! We’re proud of you

They grow up so fast – MRes 2016-17 project 1

New year, new poster session with Hamill lab students in action. This time its the turn of two MRes students from this year’s clinical sciences cohort.

Tobi Oyewole’s project looked into changes in LaNt a31 distribution in corneal limbal explants, a model of corneal wound repair in relation to proteins associated with of limbal basal epithelium/wound repair. He generated some pretty nice histology images working closely with Dr Valentina Barrera20170113_130648 including a bunch of images that quite nicely showed that our old rabbit pAb LaNt and new mouse mAb recognise very similar distributions (quite a relief really). Tobi’s work was presented at Mercia Stem Cell conference recently and Vale is continuing on with it and hopefully it will contribute to a manuscript later this year.

Kareem Hassanin did a very different project; he investigated issues with sunscre20170113_131709en application behaviour. Compared with my usual Molecular/Cell Biology/Genetics/histology type projects this was a totally different project (lots of fun) that we decided to do after a few conversations with one of my clinical colleagues (Austin McCormick) an eyelid cancer specialist. It also brought in Harry Pratt and Yalin Zheng as image analysis specialists and Gabriella Czanner as a statistician which has meant this really simple study has generated some really robust data. Conference abstract has
been submitted and the manuscript being prepared for submission very soon. 20161102_151712

The recruitment poster he used for to assemble the cohort could equally well have doubled as a wanted poster for myself (and was modified such in some of the communal areas….) and it was stated today that the people institute were pleased to no longer have my face staring at them every morning!

I also now have a big collection of comedy photos from most of the students and postdocs in the institute and have cool UV camera that we will be using in public engagement events this summer.



They grow up so fast – Mapstone prize winner edition

Congratulations to PhD student Karen Lester on a prize winning talk at the Department of Eye and Vision Science and St Paul’s Eye Unit annual ophthalmology presentations.

Karen’s studies are trying reverse engineering glaucoma in order to identify new therapeutic targets to treat this blinding disease. She already has some interesting findings and its developing into really nice story. Her studies are under the primary direction of Prof Colin Willoughby with input from  Drs Carl Sheridan, Anshoo Choudray and myself.

Interested in her work? You can see it presented at Asia ARVO in February and hopefully in print sometime soon!