Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute’s leading scientist: Elizabeth Murchison

Images by Matthew Bishop

Junior Research Fellow Elizabeth Murchison at King’s College, Cambridge and the Wellcome Trust was awarded a jewellery heirloom by the Medical Research Council at the Science Museum’s Dana Centre on 8 March 2012.

Last year, ten leading female life scientists and communicators received a jewellery heirloom — which were designed by Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design — as part of the Suffrage Science project, to commemorate 100 years of women pioneers in life science.

This year, on international women’s day, the heirlooms were passed onto a new batch of scientific leaders in order to encourage them to develop their career.

The Science broadcaster, writer and presenter Vivienne Parry talked about how she achieved success in her career. She passed on her heirloom to Elizabeth Murchison, a junior research fellow at King’s College, who talked about her research on contagious cancer.

Elizabeth studies transmissible cancers in Tasmanian devils. In 2009, she was awarded the prestigious L’Oréal-UNESCO UK and Ireland For Women in Science Fellowship.

Elizabeth grew up in Tasmania, an island state of Australia, where the tasmanian devil is found. In the mid-1990s, people noticed that a terrible new disease was sweeping through the population of tasmanian devils — a contagious facial cancer, spread by the animals biting each other’s heads when fighting over the food.

Since 1996, the population of Tasmanian devil reduced by 70% and in 2008, half the devil population of Australia had contracted the cancer and died. Murchison said: “I didn’t want to sit back and let the devils disappear.”

Dr Murchison is leading an international team at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, her team using high-throughput DNA sequencing technologies to discover the genetics and evolution of this disease. She worked at saving Tasmanian devil from extinction, at the mean time, she also looked at how a contagious cancer works.

Dr Murchison hope her research may help scientists develop a vaccine, because the devils will eventually need one.

If you want to know more about Dr Murchison’s research, watch the video below,

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