Anita Thomas

Favourite Thing: There is nothing like the excitement of having a plan come together after months and months of work!



I was born in a town in country Victoria (in Australia), and did my first degree in Melbourne, but ended up at the University of Queensland.


PhD, MSc, BAppSci, AssocDipAppBiol – and you don’t need to know when!

Work History:

Lots of hospitals and universities in Australia

Current Job:

Bristol Heart Institute (Bristol CardioVascular)


The University of Bristol – using funding from the British Heart Foundation

Me and my work

Trying to save peoples lives, one cell at a time

I’m a Vascular Biologist. Vascular biology is the study of the heart and blood vessels, and my focus is on diseases like heart attack (myocardial infarction), stroke and blocked arteries in the legs (peripheral artery disease). myimage3 I’m not a medical doctor – I don’t work directly with patients – I do research on the actual disease that underlies heart attacks – atherosclerosis (also known as hardening of the arteries). I’m lucky, in that I’m able to do this in quite a few different ways. I have about 8 different projects I’m working on at the moment – boredom is not an option! Currently? Well, I have a couple of projects in which I’m looking at the different types of cells that are the ‘culprits’, and cause the disease.myimage1 This gives us a better understanding on the way our bodies behave in health and disease. We may be able to use this information further down the line to help us find ways of preventing these cells from causing disease in the first or change them back into ‘normal’ cells. This may involve giving drugs and other treatments, immunising people – lots of different things. And so one of my other interests is finding ways to make sure any treatment we give somebody goes to where it’s needed, and not anywhere else – this is called targeted (or localised) drug delivery.myimage5 I sometimes use nanoparticles in this project. myimage7 I’m also involved in projects that improve current treatments for damaged hearts and blocked arteries. This can involve using stem cells or making ‘designer’ arteries or patches which can be used to repair holes in hearts, or bypass a blockage in an artery.

My Typical Day

Run, run, run, run, admin, run, type, type.

I usually get in early – about 07:30. First thing is to check what has been happening while I’ve been off-line, and if there are no disasters, then I focus on what I want to achieve today, and write out my protocols and procedures to work from. I’m usually in the lab by about 08:45. Today I started out by looking at some slides containing cells that I had stained on Friday, a trial run to investigate some markers these cells may or may not have. myimage2 I have chosen to use spleen cells for these experiments, as they are easy to obtain, and are similar to the main culprit cells that I am investigating – macrophages. The staining has worked! and so I will need to perform a full experiment (also today). In between setting up and running this experiment, I will need to make time to help a couple of students with their experiments (looking at macrophages in fat pads), and help another colleague to write up ‘SOPs’ (Standard Operating Procedures) for a new facility we have moved into for some of our work. Ooops! I had actually forgotten that I have a cross-faculty meeting from 14:00 – hope that this doesn’t affect my staining – and I’ll have to ask another colleague to ‘feed’ my cells for me, for an experimental protocol starting from tomorrow – which will hopefully give me some information that I can use in a grant application. myimage6 I’ll probably leave for home about 17:00, but it’s only then that I can continue my writing of research papers and (if I’m lucky) a lecture – that will be another couple of hours. There’s not really any time to write when I’m at work.

What I'd do with the money

I really want to buy or make some models, to make it easier to explain to people what we do.

It’s very odd, but whenever we want to tell people about our work, we struggle to find appropriate props. I mean, here we are in a Cardiovascular Unit, but have to go through all sorts of hoops to finds physical or on-line models of hearts, blocked arteries and so on. Actually, the last time I told a school about my work I had to go to a hardware shop! I certainly stood out, as I was carrying around a 2 metre long piece of 10 cm diameter plumbers tubing! If you don’t believe me, see the photo! myimage4

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

geeky, enthusiastic, passionate

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Classical – does that count?

What's your favourite food?

Changes all the time

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Probably Scuba diving – but this changes all the time too. Can I say Science?

What did you want to be after you left school?

I was never sure – but thought that being a Vet would be interesting.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

No – I was the good kid.

What was your favourite subject at school?

History – no, music – no, Science………….

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

Saw my first published paper ‘cited’ by somebody else. They liked my work!

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

Niels Bohr and Galilelo Galileli

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

Professional Musician

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

Multiple lifetimes, so I can do all of the things that I can’t fit into 1 lifetime.

Tell us a joke.

What was the first skin-diver? A mosquito!

Other stuff

Work photos: