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PhD student shortlisted for Max Perutz Science Writing Award

Published: 26 September 2018

St George's PhD student Natasha Clarke has been shortlisted for the Max Perutz Science Writing Award for her essay submission ‘How artificial intelligence, and a cup of tea, could help diagnose Alzheimer's disease'. The award asks Medical Research Council funded PhD students to write up to 800 words about their research and why it matters, in a way that would interest a non-scientific audience. It is named after 1962 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry Dr Max Perutz.

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Of her essay submission Natasha says, “I am using language to try and help spot the signs of disease sooner. For part of my research I'm studying the spoken language of people diagnosed with early Alzheimer's, compared to people ageing healthily, following them over one year.

“I'm probably a bit biased but I think my research, and that of my supervisor Professor Peter Garrard, is fascinating! The idea that something that seems as effortless and readily available as language could help us understand a disease as devastating as Alzheimer's is really exciting. I loved the challenge of trying to explain something like machine learning in a few words, because I think science and medicine should be accessible to everybody.”

Working closely with dementia sufferers after her undergraduate studies inspired the topic of Natasha's PhD.

She elaborates, “After my degree I knew I wanted to go into research, and got a job as a Psychologist at a dementia charity. Working with people with different types of dementia, seeing how it affected them in different ways - particularly their language - showed me how awful it must be to not only lose your memories, but to not be able to communicate in the same way.

“I love studying at St George's. Everybody's very supportive but you're also given the space to learn and shape your PhD in your own way. There is incredible research going on, and because my work involves visiting the hospital I get to see the amazing clinical work too. I feel very privileged to have three and a half years to work on something I find so rewarding and challenging!”

The winner of the Max Perutz Science Writing Award will be announced on 25 October. If you would like to follow Natasha on Twitter, you can do so here .

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