PhD Candidate - Neuro-inflammation following traumatic spinal cord injury
The University of Queensland
After exchanging a few emails with Patrick, we learnt that scientific curiosity can make the world a better place—one just has to be ready to accept a challenge.
Scientists love asking questions and are lucky enough to spend most of their time trying to find answers to all that sparks their interest. Patrick Biggins, a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland and one of our Young Science Ambassadors, does exactly that, and the answer to his ‘burning science questions’ may one day change the lives of hundred of people who suffer from spinal cord injury (SCI).
After spending a year in Japan teaching English, Patrick started his PhD and is currently trying to find a treatment for (SCI, which is damage to the spinal cord that results in a loss of function such as mobility or feeling.
“To the regular person, my research may not apply in their everyday life”, he said. “However, to someone who has suffered a spinal cord injury, my research could one day provide them with a treatment to alleviate their pain and also help them regain some movement again. This would give them a much better quality of life.”
What got you into science?
I was always very curious as a child – always asking ‘why?’ to problems, no doubt much to the frustration of my parents sometimes! I can say, however, that it was in high school, thanks to one of my teachers, that I became really interested in science. I found it extremely interesting that there were all of these problems out there just waiting to be solved. I also found it interesting that there are no boundaries in science – your mind has the freedom to explore all sorts of new ideas in an attempt to solve a problem!
What is your research about?
My research looks at finding treatments for spinal cord injury. The financial and emotional costs of spinal cord injury are very high for the affected persons; any treatment that improves their recovery will be very helpful for them. There are two stages of injury – primary and secondary. I investigate secondary injury, which is the stage when a lot of the permanent and significant damage occurs.
Why did you choose to study spinal cord injuries?
I find that, when I come across a problem that no one can currently solve, my brain immediately accepts it as a ‘challenge’. I’m also very interested in the human body and the nervous system, especially how both recover from damage. As my area of research involves both of those topics, that’s why I’m so interested in spinal cord injury.
What was the last piece of science news that you found interesting and why?
I was reading an article about a protein called TLR4. Normally it plays a detrimental, inflammatory role following standard physical injury, however, it was discovered it might assist in the protection of the spinal cord following injury. This is very interesting, as it suggests that we cannot just accept what is currently known about things in science and must explore their roles in every situation. It also provides a potential new target for a therapy to treat spinal cord injury.
What does it mean to be a scientist?
Being a scientist means one has an inquisitive personality and is always wanting to know the how and why of problems. A scientist also needs to be very flexible with their thinking – their theories will always get modified once more information is known!
Who is your favourite scientist and why?
My favourite scientist is Professor Ian Frazer. He epitomises the qualities it takes to be a researcher – persistence, ingenuity and novel thinking.
What is your favourite quote?
“Believe you can and you’re halfway there” – Theodore Roosevelt
What is your dream job?
My dream job is running my own biomedical research company that searches for ways to cure currently incurable diseases and injuries.