Joanna Giles

Big Bang Fair in March 14th-17th - come along! I'll be there because it is AWESOME :D

Favourite Thing: My favourite thing to do in science is to purify the DNA I get from people, normally I get a small blood sample and then burst the cells open and purify the DNA. I then send it away to be analysed and I can find out what versions of genes people have. It’s really interesting!



I went to Cardigan Secondary School from year 7 to year 13. In 2003 I started my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at Oxford University. I stayed at Oxford University to do my PhD until 2011.


I have a Masters degree in Biochemistry and I have a PhD in Clinical Medicine. So officially I’m a Doctor, but not a medical one…I’m like Ross from Friends!

Work History:

When I was doing A-levels and in Uni I worked in a Cafe and WH Smiths.

Current Job:

Since finishing my PhD I have been working at Cardiff University doing my own Research Project. I am paid by a charity called “Arthritis Research UK – ARUK”


Cardiff University / Arthritis Research UK

Me and my work

I work on the proteins in the blood (which are encoded in the genes) to see why and how they can be involved in diseases of the immune system, like Arthritis.

I work on the immune system and how the regulation of it can sometimes go wrong to cause diseases. These types of diseases are called autoimmune diseases. Arthritis is just one type of autoimmune disease, but my work can relate to lots of diseases including Multiple Sclerosis, Diabetes, Alopecia and many many more.

I am trying to work out if some versions of genes that people have mean that they are at a higher risk of getting arthritis.

The genes I am looking at are genes that code for proteins in the blood plasma (the yellow stuff our cells float around in). These proteins are called the Complement proteins and their natural job is to bind to and kill any bacteria that get into our bodies before they have a chance to harm us.

To do this I have to try to figure out exactly how these proteins work. So, on a daily basis I try to get the proteins out of the blood and then figure out how they bind together and kill bugs, and how they can go wrong and kill our own cells by mistake.

My Typical Day

When I get to work I probably spend 80% of my time in the lab doing experiments, and 20% of the time in the office reading about other people’s work and planning the next experiment!

Some days I spend the entire morning in the Arthritis Clinic of the Heath Hospital. I ask patients with Arthritis if they mind giving me a bit of blood so that I can get their DNA and look at what genes they have.

I then take their blood back to the lab and┬áseparate┬áthe blood by spinning it really fast in a machine called a centrifuge. This spins the blood so fast that all the heavy stuff – the cells – spin to the bottom and all the lighter stuff stays on the top – like the plasma.

Here I am putting the patient blood samples into the centrifuge!


I can use the white cells to purify the DNA and use the plasma to see how well the proteins in it work.

Some days I give presentations to the other scientists in the lab about my work. I love talking about science and hearing what people think about it!

What I'd do with the money

I would give a chunk to “Genesareus” and I would also design and print posters of all the best questions posted on here and send them to the schools taking part.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Enthusiastic, friendly, conscientious

Who is your favourite singer or band?


What is the most fun thing you've done?

A few years ago I went to Iceland and went snowmobiling on a Glacier. That was realllllly fun!

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

Wish I had a lab at home so that I could spend more time with my dog! Wish that I had unlimited money to do whatever experiments I want (a lot of experiments and equipment are VERY expensive), and I wish I could live on a little beach somewhere.

What did you want to be after you left school?

An Astronaut! But then I figured there were enough science mysteries on this planet to think about first!

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

To be honest I was a bit of a geek, so…no.

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

I used to work on arthritis of the spine called Ankylosing Spondylitis. It is a disease where the spine can be very stiff and painful and in the worse cases can completely fuse together. During my PhD my research group was working on a brand new drug to see if it could block the disease causing actions of a gene called HLA-B27. We showed that our new drug could indeed bind to HLA-B27, and future work will look at trying to use this in patients as a treatment in disease.

Tell us a joke.

What’s green and has wheels? Grass…I lied about the wheels

Other stuff

Work photos:

Looking at cells under a microscope myimage4

Experiments at my lab bench



Sometimes we have to talk about our work in big meetings. Here I am with a poster of my work myimage5


Here I am meeting a brilliant scientist on my meeting in Washington D.C