Emma Scotter

Emma Scotter

Name Emma Scotter

Current Job Title Aotearoa Postdoctoral Fellow

Organisation Centre for Brain Research, University of Auckland

Academic Background BSc (Hons), PhD Pharmacology

My Story

Career path: I received my PhD from the University of Auckland in 2009, with my thesis having focused on Huntington’s Disease. In 2010 I travelled to King’s College London as a Marie Curie International Fellow. I worked for four years in the lab of Prof. Christopher Shaw, a NZ-born neurologist and geneticist, shifting my focus to motor neuron disease. I’ve recently returned to NZ to work with Prof. Mike Dragunow at the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland as an Aotearoa Fellow, continuing my work on motor neuron disease.

Why did you decide to get into science? I’ve always been very analytical and enjoyed maths and science at school. The press around the cloning of Dolly the sheep impressed upon me the capacity for science to change society and improve human health, and I’ve been hooked ever since.

What do you like most about your job? The variety. I divide my time between the lab bench, writing papers and grants, and interacting with patients or community groups, so every day presents new challenges and opportunities.

What is the highlight of your career so far? I’ve loved each of the different phases of my short career thus far; the intense learning and the comraderie of the PhD, the feeling of being at the forefront of research in one of the world’s best MND labs in London, and the development of independence in my current role. I’m hoping there are many more highlights to come (ahem. Nature papers).

What is your advice for women looking at a career in science? To anyone looking at a career in science I would say to be prepared to work hard, not just because it takes dedication to achieve in science but because you’ll likely become addicted to the thrill. And to women specifically I would say that the hours we work and the short term contracts can influence family planning decisions, but there are many wonderful female scientist role models to look to who represent a spectrum of personal situations and who have achieved success in science.

What do you do? My work is focussed on protein misfolding and quality control in the context of motor neuron disease. The deposition of misfolded proteins in regions affected by disease is common to a range of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and motor neuron disease. I am interested in the features of the misfolded protein species which cause toxicity, as well as the specific degradation pathways which clear those toxic species. My recent work showed distinct clearance pathways for native and early misfolded protein versus large aggregates for the protein TDP-43, which is implicated in motor neuron disease. I predominantly use cultured cells; either those modified to express disease proteins or cells derived directly from patients. I then validate findings from cells using human brain tissue from patients. My current work seeks to identify a pathological protein signature in cells grown from the brain tissue of motor neuron disease patients.