University of Dundee

Andy Howden Q&A

Andy Howden, from Dundee, is a postdoctoral researcher in Professor Doreen Cantrell’s lab in the Division of Cell Signalling and Immunology at the University of Dundee. Andy has been working on a COVID-19 project funded by the Chief Scientist’s Office, Scotland since it was awarded in May.

What COVID-19 project are you working on?

We want to be able to better predict why some people become seriously ill with COVID-19 while others remain fit and well. To answer this question, we are looking at the immune cells in the blood to try to figure out whether these cells have a particular signature in their proteins that might predict disease outcome. We use mass spectrometry to tell us which proteins are being made by the cell and how much protein there is. We can then compare these protein signatures from COVID patients and healthy individuals to try and understand what is different. We want to understand how our immune system responds to the virus and why the immune system might be successful in some cases and not in others. These COVID projects are very collaborative and involve researchers in the School of Life Sciences, School of Medicine at Ninewells Hospital and Edinburgh.

What do you normally work on?

My non-COVID projects use proteomics and mass spectrometry to understand how immune cells respond to stimulation and stress. I have a particular interest in the links between the immune system and diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  

What’s your typical day?

I’m in the lab for a few days each week and like many people I’m juggling science and family. A team of us in the lab take the samples that have been collected from COVID patients in Ninewells Hospital and prepare these for mass spectrometry. These samples then get analysed by the proteomics facility and we receive the raw data for downstream processing. The logistics for this project have been complicated and we’ve had to think carefully about how to design experiments to get the most out of these precious samples. Life is now very different to before. Every minute is very valuable as we only have a limited amount of time in the lab.

What’s it like to work in the School of Life Sciences?

The School is a great place to work. It’s friendly, open and collaborative. The COVID project is heavily reliant on the core facilities within the building and we have been helped massively by the proteomics team, the lab managers, health and safety and the stores team. Without them we couldn’t have done this project during lockdown. Within our group we have regular lab meetings and coffee meetings online, but I miss the face to face contact.

Why did you come to Dundee?

I always wanted to return to my hometown. The School of Life Sciences is the best place in the UK for using proteomics to understand cell signalling so it’s the perfect place for me.

What inspired you to become a scientist?

I love problem solving.

What activities are you undertaking to de-stress?

I’m enjoying sport, family time and looking after my chickens.

What can’t you wait to get back to once remaining lockdown measures are lifted?

I miss tea and cakes with the lab.

Quick fire questions:

  • Tea or Coffee? Tea
  • Morning or Afternoon? Afternoon
  • Cat or Dog? Chicken
  • Animal Crossing or Tiger King? The Lion King
  • Sough dough bread or banana bread? Sour dough