Scientific proof of the importance of supporting researchers following a career break
Kidney Research UK, in collaboration with the Daphne Jackson Trust, fund a Fellowship programme tailored for those returning to work after a career break. These Fellowships come with mentor support and specific training courses to turbo charge the recipient’s career. Dr Jane Carré received a Daphne Jackson Fellowship in 2019.
Jane is a problem solver by nature and during her undergraduate days at the University of Sussex in Brighton, she realised that she could be a professional problem solver. So, she went on to complete a PhD and become a postdoc, pursuing a career as a researcher. Torn by the conflicting interests of starting a family and building her own career/independence as a biochemist working on mitochondria, Jane took a teaching-only position as a lecturer. After a few years, Jane found that despite the conveniences of a teaching only role, it didn’t grasp her in the way research did. She took a career-break to focus on her growing family and started to plot her return to the lab.
“During my career break I had the constant feeling of chasing a train that was just pulling out of the station. It’s the last train and it is just out of reach. How am I going to get home?” Jane applied for a Daphne Jackson Fellowship with Kidney Research UK, to allow her the funding and support to restart her research work.
Understanding energy and chronic kidney disease
Jane’s longstanding research interest is understanding the way our cells convert fuel from food into useful energy, allowing our cells to work properly. This process is known as respiration and is carried out by specialised structures in our cells called mitochondria.
Jane is currently trying to understand how mitochondria are involved in the muscle weakness and wasting often experienced by those living with chronic kidney disease (CKD). Loss of muscle function is common in CKD, potentially leading to frailty. Frailty significantly affects an individual’s ability to do simple day-to-day tasks, such as going to the shops or cooking meals and can also have a negative impact on recovery after kidney transplantation. Like many health conditions, CKD has been linked to changes in the way mitochondria work, but it’s not clear if these changes drive the disease process or are a consequence of CKD itself.
During her Fellowship Jane has been measuring the function of mitochondria in muscle cells that have been exposed to conditions that mimic CKD. In the same way that we use batteries to power our electronics, cells use a molecule called ATP to power our bodies; mitochondria are the ATP factories within our cells. Jane is looking at how insulin (a hormone involved in keeping blood sugar levels stable and building muscle) affects the availability of energy (ATP) in patients with CKD. In the future this work will help Jane understand how CKD affects the amount of energy being provided by mitochondria to fuel important tasks that keep muscles healthy. If we can understand when and how mitochondria are involved in kidney disease, we can design new, potentially more effective targeted treatments. This research will also help doctors to identify patients most at risk of early muscle loss and predict more effectively when different people could respond best to nutrients, exercise, or new treatments. In the long-term, Jane hopes her work, supported by the Daphne Jackson Trust and Kidney Research UK, will help keep kidney patients stronger for longer.
“I always get quite emotional when I start championing the Daphne Jackson Trust and Kidney Research UK because they have honestly made such a difference to me, as they do to so many people”
Jane completed her Fellowship in June 2021. She is now a lecturer who is starting her own research group.
Elaine Davies, director of research operations at Kidney Research UK commented, “We are delighted to support talented researchers like Jane through Daphne Jackson Fellowships. Our partnership with the Daphne Jackson Trust helps us achieve keeping scientists working in research into kidney disease. We don’t want to lose valuable talent. It is only through research that we can meet the challenge of better prevention, diagnosis and treatment of renal diseases, and we look forward to seeing Jane’s future contributions”
Dr Helen Marsh from the Daphne Jackson Trust said: "The Daphne Jackson Trust are committed to providing individuals returning to research careers with the confidence and skills that they need to resume making invaluable scientific contributions to the research environment. We are delighted to partner with Kidney Research UK to support Dr Jane Carre to continue her vital research and wish her every success for the future."
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