Helen Tunbridge

Getting nervous about the evictions now!

Favourite Thing: Making movies of brightly coloured cells flitting about and “chatting” with other cells.



My secondary education and A Levels were at Liskeard School and Community College, finishing in 2007. I was at the University of Southampton from 2007-2011 studying biomedical science, but took a year out to work for a drugs company after my second year. Now I’m at the University of Bristol, doing a PhD, started 2011 and hoping to finish in 2015.


LOTS of GCSEs, ABB in biology, chemistry and theatre studies (in that order and this was before the days of A* in A levels!) I also did psychology and critical thinking at AS level. I got a 2:1 in my undergraduate degree in Southampton, and the next qualification should be a PhD, so I’ll get to be Dr. Tunbridge!!

Work History:

I worked in a hotel after 6th form, and for GlaxoSmithKline (a drugs company) for a year after my second year of uni.

Current Job:

My current job is my PhD! I spend all day in the lab and is halfway between being a student and ‘a real person’. I’m technically a student but it’s much more like a job than anything else.


The University of Bristol, but I work in two labs.One belonging to Christoph Wuelfing and the other to David Wraith.

Me and my work

I study how cells talk to themselves by taking pictures and making movies of what happens inside them after they touch another cell.

There is a new treatment for a disease called multiple sclerosis (a disease where your immune system starts attacking the brain), which changes how cells behave. This treatment makes a particular kind of white blood cell called a T cell change from being a dangerous and damaging kind of cell, to being protective kind. When this happens, the way the  T cell talks to itself (cell signalling) changes too. The way the cell talks to itself is by moving proteins around. I can watch these proteins being moved around by making them glow green. There’s a really useful protein called green fluorescent protein (which was used to make these cool green monkeys!, which I stick onto the end of the protein I want to look at, so that I can see the green protein moving around in the cell which is see-through. So once I’ve made a signalling protein tagged with the green protein, I can transfer it into the T cells and make videos of them talking to themselves!

My Typical Day

There isn’t really such a thing as a ‘typical day’ for me! Depending on which day of the week it is, I have particular tasks I need to do. Monday is my busiest day, because I have to prepare for and make all the videos of my cells. Thursday is the quietest, and I spend most of it looking at the videos I made and trying to analyse them.

The cells I use are from mice, so I spend quite a lot of time looking after my mice and looking after three different types of cells. I also spend a lot of time using a very fancy microscope to make the videos of the cells, and lots of time analysing the videos. I also get to chop up DNA and recombine it in different ways to add the green fluorescent protein to different kinds of protein so I can get a really clear picture of how cell signalling changes.

What I'd do with the money

I’d like to use the money to have some beautiful glass sculptures of cells made to take into schools.

I’m interested in getting more people (like you!) excited by science, so I’d really like to be able to have some more props to be able to take into schools and demonstrate how beautiful cells really are. Our department has a couple of beautiful glass sculptures already, but I’d really like to be able to have another one of two made. Anything left over I’d like to give to the Wellcome Collection, as they have an incredible museum/gallery of science based wonders in London. They’re really good at communicating scientific knowledge to the public, and their associated charity The Wellcome Trust are currently funding my research!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Chatty, excitable, SCIENTIST!!

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Imogen Heap, she’s incredible. I also like contemporary folk like Bellowhead, Seth Lakeman and Stornoway

What's your favourite food?

Homemade spaghetti bolognese, preferably with homemade spaghetti too!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Gosh, that’s tricky. That would either be camping and surfing with some amazing friends I met at university, who I play ultimate frisbee with or going to Beach Break student festival two years ago with my best friend.

What did you want to be after you left school?

I didn’t really know! I wanted to be a vet for years, then changed my mind. In the end I just decided to do a general science degree so I did biomedical science. You don’t need to know what you want to be to succeed!!

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Ermmm sometimes! Usually for talking too much in class, or daydreaming. I was once sent out for being cheeky but I don’t think I ever did anything worse than that!

What was your favourite subject at school?

Science and french. I also really liked drama.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

The coolest thing I’ve ever done was to keep a patient’s brain cancer alive in culture! The most exciting thing was probably seeing the movie of cells that I had cultured myself, with the green tagged protein I’d made myself!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My two science teachers from school, Mr. Hodin and Mr. Whittaker. They made science sound so exciting and interesting, and they were really engaging and kind teachers

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Sad! I think I would probably be a science teacher, I really can’t imagine my life without science at all. Maybe I would have done english or french instead?

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1) To have a successful career in science, whether that be working for a drugs company or a university. 2) For my research to make a difference to people living with multiple sclerosis. 3) To live in a house where I was allowed a cat! Renting a flat is great, but most of them don’t let you have pets :-( 3)

Tell us a joke.

“You know what gets on my nerves? Myelin…” (Myelin is a coating on your nerve cells and is what is attacked in multiple sclerosis! Probably not so funny if you have to explain it…. Sorry…) Also everything on this page is hilarious. Fact.

Other stuff

Work photos:

I’ll get a few more interesting photos up here soon, but in the meantime, here’s a picture of all the STASH I managed to get at a recent conference. Going to conferences is a really exciting (and often unmentioned!) part of being a scientist, you get to hear about all kinds of research that is currently being done. It’s a good opportunity to meet other scientists and possibly set up joint experiments with other labs, lots of companies also have stands there and like to give you freebies like pens, packs of cards and even cameras!