Student profile
Valeria Mastrullo, PhD Biosciences and Medicine

Valeria Mastrullo

"My project aims to evaluate the existence of a circadian clock in vascular pericytes, mural cells whose role is to support and enhance vascular function of endothelial cells in capillaries."

Entry year
2018
Research project

The role of the circadian clock in vascular pericytes and its effect on tissue engineering vascularisation.

Why I chose Surrey

I began my journey into cardiovascular science when I completed an undergraduate biotechnology degree and a subsequent medical biotechnology masters. During the latter, I got the opportunity to complete a research project – then became a research fellow – at Monzino Cardiology Center, Italy. This was the first hospital in Europe exclusively devoted to cardiac care, with advanced therapies and innovative technologies.

When I was looking for a PhD, I had the opportunity to speak with one of my supervisors to discuss my project, which helped me to decide that both the project and Surrey were right for me. I then applied for a studentship to help fund my research, and enable me to move and live in the UK.

My research project

Funded by the University of Surrey, my project aims to evaluate the existence of a circadian clock in vascular pericytes, mural cells whose role is to support and enhance vascular function of endothelial cells in capillaries. The disruption of the internal body clock affects our cardiovascular system. For example, myocardial infarctions are more likely to happen in the early morning, just after waking up. The molecular mechanisms underlying these physiological outputs are still to be fully unveiled, according to existing literature.

One of my objectives is to understand how the circadian clock is involved in the cross-talk between endothelial cells and pericytes, using classic contact and non-contact, two-dimensional co-culture methods, but also three-dimensional advanced systems. I’m using a polyurethane, microporous scaffold to grow vascular cells in 3D, to assess the effect of circadian clock synchronisation.

My discoveries can bring us a step closer towards a better understanding of these important mechanisms of life!

"I love working as part of a team and there are lots of opportunities to work with researchers from other departments."

I absolutely love lab work and the cell and tissue culture, microscopy and genomic laboratories! I like to learn new techniques and apply these to my project. I also like how I get to manage my own time and schedule my work around deadlines. It’s helped me improve my organisation skills.  

I have four incredible supervisors: Dr Paola Campagnolo, Professor Jonathan Johnston, Dr Daan van der Veen and Dr Eirini Velliou. Their help and support have been constant and they’re always available to give me guidance and constructive feedback, especially when I’m lost in my data analysis!

I love working as part of a team and there are lots of opportunities to work with researchers from other departments. I’ve had the opportunity to write a collaborative literature review and a book chapter, in addition to contributing to two side projects.

My life at Surrey

Life at Surrey is dynamic and friendly – the people around you are everything! Being surrounded by fellow PhD students has helped me to overcome difficult moments and got me to where I am today.

I’ve recently been awarded PhD Student of the Year for the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences. I was nominated by my fellow PhD students and supervisors for the help, support and guidance I’ve given to undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD students. It’s such an honour to receive this recognition for my work, and my patient and positive approach – I’m extremely grateful for this.

My career and development

During my time at Surrey, I’ve had the chance to learn many new techniques and to be part of peer-reviewed publications, which will no doubt improve my employability. I’ve also used the employability and careers service to get advice for my future plans and help with writing a CV.

After my PhD, I want to apply for postdoctoral jobs to continue a research-based project, potentially in the field of translational medicine, where I can apply my tissue engineering expertise.

My advice

The only advice I can give is to choose a project that inspires you, keeps you curious and keen to learn.

Find out more about our biosciences and medicine PhD

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