We caught up with Loren Kell, holder of the Mellon Scholarship in Ageing and Cell Senescence, who is studying for a DPhil in Biochemistry at Oriel, to find out more about the scholarship and her research.
Loren grew up in North Wales and studied for her BA at University College London. For her DPhil studies, Loren is focused on the biology of ageing and cell senescence, with a particular interest in how the immune system changes with time. Speaking about what inspired her passion for her subject, Loren said:
“I got excited about immunology during my undergraduate degree, and I got particularly excited when I learned that ageing is a process that is plastic. I learned that targeting central ageing processes, which underlie many of the age-related diseases, is a powerful way to extend health span. Ageing is something that happens to all of us, so investigating how to age healthily seemed like an effective way to improve people’s overall health, especially for the older population.”
Loren is studying the effects of a particular drug intervention called mTOR (or mTORi) inhibition, and how this may be able to increase both health and lifespan by producing a rejuvenated immune response in older people. Loren explains:
“When we get old, we accumulate cells that look ‘old’, which we call senescent cells. These cells are often implicated in driving age-related diseases. My research looks at how mTORi rejuvenates these. Some mTORi drugs, like rapamycin, are already fully approved and in the clinic for treating some conditions and, excitingly, I’m also involved in a trial in which we will see whether and how the immune system changes when old people are being given an mTORi.”
Loren’s studies at Oriel are funded by The Mellon Longevity Scholarship which aims to encourage research in longevity science and ageing. When asked about the benefits of receiving this scholarship, Loren said:
“The scholarship gave me the opportunity to work in Professor Lynne Cox’s lab, and to receive supervision from world experts in the field of ageing and immunity. I’m confident that the skills that I continue to learn throughout my DPhil will set me up well to pursue further research to understand and promote healthy ageing.
Working with Professor Lynne Cox in Oriel College has also allowed me access to a variety of events where I’ve been able to network with other scientists and industry experts in the field, such as the Longevity Forum Science Summits held annually, the BLAST summer school on ageing science and a symposium with industry expert Jim Kirkland as keynote speaker. The scholarship has allowed me to meet fellow longevity researchers at conferences, such as the UK SPINE conference and CARINA immune ageing network earlier this year. I have recently presented my research internationally, most recently at a conference in Groningen, The Netherlands, in September.
Finally, my position as a Mellon Longevity Scholarship holder has exposed me to many different career types and avenues, and I’m excited to explore these options further during the rest of my DPhil.”
Outside of academia and the lab, Loren enjoys singing with the Oriel Chapel choir, the jazz acapella group ‘The Oxford Gargoyles’ and has sung for a vocal ensemble in London (F8:5). Although she was worried about having to choose between science and music, Loren is pleased that “that hasn’t had to happen […] we did a 10-day run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I was really proud of the show we made and loved the experience.”
Her advice to prospective students who want to study at Oxford is to “try and hold on to what you love about your subject and what makes you excited, and give yourself space to feel that love.”