February 2021

Celebrating International Day of Women and Girls in Science

Today is International Day of Women and Girls in Science and this year’s theme is focused on the women at the forefront of the fight against COVID. Many of our own scientists are working at the forefront of this disease pandemic, supporting molecular diagnostics for SARS-CoV-2, quality control for testing, and more.

We spoke with Dr Eloise Busby, whose work in the Molecular and Cell Biology team at the UK National Measurement Laboratory at LGC has supported SARS-CoV-2 molecular diagnostics through RNA transcripts.

Dr Eloise Busby, Research at the UK National Measurement Laboratory at LGC

When did you become interested in science?

I’ve always been interested in science, ever since I was a kid. I took my Bachelor’s in the sciences and I came to LGC with a Masters in Medical Parasitology, which is different to the work we do here. The interest has continued. I still get excited when anybody talks about an obscure worm or tropical disease.

I started off in LGC in food analysis. I was lucky enough to develop all the experience I have to date working in q PCR, and understanding why measurement and accuracy are important, and applying that to biological entities.

The opportunity came up to work in the Molecular and Cell Biology team with Dr Jim Huggett and do a PhD in collaboration with UCL, which I jumped on. I chose infectious diseases as a study early on. It’s something I’ve always been interested in and I knew it was what I wanted to do my PhD in. It was just when the right opportunity arose or the right project came about.

What has been your experience working at the forefront of SARS-CoV-2 molecular diagnostics in the middle of this pandemic?

It’s really strange for people that I’ve never had a conversation with about PCR suddenly to at least know what it stands for. One of the funny things I notice at the moment is seeing gene names mentioned on BBC News. People are talking about nucleocapsid and envelope genes, spike proteins, and talking about protein folding, and it’s a bit like living in the twilight zone.

I’ve never worked on coronaviruses before, as I predominantly focused on HIV, so it’s been a learning experience for sure. A very quick reading of the literature. HIV and RNA-based viruses happen to have become a bit of a niche for me, with the current pathogen of interest in particular. The experience that we already had working with infectious disease helped us flow into working on SARS-CoV-2.

Where do you see the future of diagnostics and metrology going?

The potential value of digital PCR for supporting qPCR diagnostics is enormous and beginning to be realised now. It’s a fun technique as well.

Precise measurements and accuracy in measurement to support clinical diagnostics is the kind of thing that jumps to my mind. Using accurate measurement for quantification of disease targets- this can be used to support cancer models and treatment decisions. Like for HIV, viral load and changes in viral load could influence decisions being made, so it definitely impacts on patient care.

Something I’ve been thinking about recently, and very pertinent to now, is vaccine development. There has to be an element of quality control (QC) involved in vaccines, particularly mRNA vaccines right now. How much RNA is in your vaccine? Have you calibrated your method appropriately to know the amount of RNA that you say? So I really feel that the work we’ve being doing towards measurement accuracy in nucleic acids could be directly used to support vaccine development in the future.

We also spoke with one of our Product Marketing Directors, Melissa Siewert, about her experience working on SARS-CoV-2 solutions during the pandemic:

"For the past nearly 12 months, my team and I have been leading multi-functional groups across the Genomics business to assemble and bring to market our capabilities for reliable and extremely scalable SARS-CoV-2 testing solutions (to learn more, click here). This complete solution required us to work in new ways, both internally by bringing together diverse groups of individuals, and with our customers in new regulatory markets and new commercial models. We’ve successfully deployed these systems at two customer sites and have several more implementations in the pipeline over the coming months. This roller coaster ride that is the COVID pandemic has been both challenging and satisfying, as I reflect on the incredible work we have done to apply Science for a Safer World."

Melissa Siewert, Product Marketing Director, LGC Biosearch Technologies

Read more about other women of LGC, including the first woman to work in the laboratory during World War I, Miss E.M. Chatt, here.