Corpus Christi College Oxford

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Corpus medical student wins the Wronker prize

In July this year, Sarah Richardson obtained the highest mark in the University for her research project, part of the Final Honour Schools in Medical Sciences.  Her work was subsequently in Scientific Reports, a peer-reviewed journal of the Nature Publishing Group.  Sarah used imaging microscopy to look at the movement of small molecules inside red blood cells from humans and animals.  

In blood capillaries, red blood cells have less than one second to exchange CO2 and O2 with tissues. Given this time constraints, it has been widely assumed that gases diffuse very quickly inside RBCs.  Sarah's findings have challenged this long-held assumption.  She found that the high density of hemoglobin inside human red blood cells reduces CO2 diffusion by a factor of 20 - and even by a greater amount in red cells from animals with higher hemoglobin concentration, such as  alpacas that normally live at high altitude and need better oxygen-carrying capacity.  To prevent the highly restricted diffusion from adversely affecting the efficiency of gas exchange, red blood cells must become flattened and Sarah provided evidence for this by demonstrating an inverse correlation between hemoglobin concentration and cell thickness, measured in over 250 species of animal. Sarah said: "I thoroughly enjoyed my project. Some days were hard,  especially when a protocol hadn't worked and it needed to be repeated many times, with slight adjustments, before any data could be collected. But when you finally get some results, it can be really exciting. Sometimes the results you expected from the original hypothesis were not the same as the results you collected subsequently and that can lead to some great discussions in the lab. You really are at the forefront of science; it was definitely my favourite part of pre-clinical medicine."

The article can be found at http://www.nature.com/articles/srep36018

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