Wild about wild interview.....

Cara Tomas

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This Wild about Wild interview is a fascinating read from the hugely motivating Biomedical researcher - Cara Tomas.

Cara is a PhD student at Newcastle University, currently investigating the role of cellular bioenergetics in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a condition which affects her directly. Cara is an accomplished scientist, with her research being reported on at a national level, including within the New Scientist magazine.



Wild about Wild: How would you describe the route you took to your current role as a researcher?

  Cara: I completed an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences in 2011, before embarking on a master’s degree. This led on to my current PhD, during which I have been investigating the role of cellular bioenergetics in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). My interest in CFS research began when I was diagnosed with CFS at age 13 and was bedbound for 2 years.


WAW: Your current research sounds fascinating and much needed, can you tell us a little more about it?


C: My career in science has been based around CFS research and has included researching various aspects of the disease ranging from genetics, to the role of sleep in CFS, and cardiac abnormalities, alongside my primary interest in bioenergetics in CFS. I have had a number of scientific papers published and my research has also been mentioned in the New Scientist magazine, as well as reported by a national newspaper.


WAW: What inspired you to pursue a career in Science?


C: My inspiration to pursue a career in science stems from two sources. I have always had great and inspirational science teachers, most of whom happen to have been female. Their stimulating lessons and constant encouragement made me want to pursue a career in science. My second inspiration was my mum. My mum has a PhD in marine sciences and has been another phenomenal female role model throughout my life, she has helped inspire me to pursue a career in science. A factor that helped shaped the exact direction in scientific research was when I was diagnosed with CFS at the age of 13. This made me want to research CFS in particular and lead me down the path of biomedical research.  



WAW: What does your current role involve on a day to day basis?

C: My current role as a PhD student involves a balance of experimental design, conducting experiments, data analysis, data interpretation, and writing up research. Specifically, my research looking at the cellular bioenergetics in CFS has involved using equipment to perform measures of cellular energy utilisation and investigating how CFS cells perform compared to a control cohort of healthy controls. A vital part of my role is publishing my research to build awareness of it within the scientific community and contribute to the direction of future research within the field.



WAW: What three words would you use to describe what you do? 


C: Researcher; scientific writer; lab rat



WAW: What do you love about working in your field?


C: I love having the diversity of working in the lab, reading background research, interpreting data, and getting my research out there in publications. The different aspects involved in research mean that every day is different. One of my favourite parts of working in the field of CFS research is getting letters and emails from patients once my research has been published. Knowing that the patients appreciate the effort going into the research and the progress being made makes it all worthwhile. I also love the CFS research community. The CFS research community is made up of a wide range of people from clinicians to students to those working for CFS charities to patient groups, which enables well rounded discussions and ideas from different points of view.


WAW: What is the coolest project you have worked on and why? 

C: Although I have thoroughly enjoyed all the projects I have worked on, my favourite project to date was my PhD, looking at cellular bioenergetics in CFS. We found strikingly significant results showing immune cells from CFS patients to have significantly impaired mitochondrial function. The results showed CFS cells are less able to produce energy to meet the energetic requirements of cells and fulfil cellular energy demands.

This research has enabled us to identify a specific cell type, (PBMCs), with abnormal mitochondrial functioning in CFS patients and has allowed us to identify mitochondrial dysfunction as a potential disease pathway. Given the current lack of knowledge surrounding the cause of CFS, identification of this abnormality gives us a specific direction for future research and has also helped strengthen the evidence for CFS having a physiological cause. 



WAW: Who are your role models? 


C: My first role models are my parents who have always taught me that I can achieve anything I put my mind to and who are always there to support my choices. They listen to me moaning when experiments go wrong which is always appreciated! The number one role model for my career in CFS research is Professor Julia Newton. I have been honoured to have worked with Julia on a number of CFS projects since 2012. Her guidance, enthusiasm and wealth of knowledge have continually encouraged me to strive for more and have been at the root of all my achievements within the field to date.  



WAW: Do you have any advice for people starting out wanting to work in your field?


C: I would advise anyone wanting to start a career in science to identify a specific area of research they are passionate about and then contact people already working in that area. These contacts can lead to future collaborations and can help you gain experience in working within a specific field. Even volunteering in a lab can gain you invaluable experience. I would say for those who specifically want to work in the area of CFS research, that it is a great area of research to be involved in and you would be working alongside some of the most knowledgeable and experienced scientists in the world. The reward of making progress in uncovering the secrets of a severely debilitating disease makes all the hard times worthwhile.



WAW: What do you enjoy doing outside of your research?


C: My interests outside of research include animal rehabilitation. At home I help care for bats which require rehabilitation before being released back into the wild. Further afield, I have volunteered a number of times at a wildlife rehabilitation center in South Africa, which rehabilitates primates alongside a number of other species.



WAW: Thank you so much for your time Cara - where can we find out more about your work?


C: My LinkedIn profile can be found at: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/cara-tomas-5031668a.


My most recently published work can be seen at: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0186802



The full New Scientist article about my research can be found at: http://www.meassociation.org.uk/2017/11/new-scientist-blood-cells-in-chronic-fatigue-syndrome-are-drained-of-energy-04-november-2017/