Case Study: Lessells Engineering Travel Award. Glasgow – Hong Kong

“I am grateful for this amazing and fundamental educational experience, which I think every PhD student should experience during their studies”

Xi King is a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Glasgow. Xi was awarded a JM Lessells Travel Scholarship in June 2017 which enabled her to travel to carry out a 3 months research project entitled “New Acoustic Methods For Nebulisation of Liposomes for Pulmonary Drug Delivery” at the University of Hong Kong.

Photo: Xi King, School of Pharmacy, University of Hong Kong

Please can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am an Italian born Chinese from Rome, in Italy and I graduated from the University of Rome “Tor Vergata” with a BSc and a MSc in Biomedical Engineering. During my master I spent six months in an electronic laboratory at Duke University, in North Carolina (US). I am currently completing my PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Glasgow.

Can you describe your project in no more than 50 words?

I am working on the development of a low-cost, user-friendly pulmonary drug delivery platform, which can produce aerosols and deliver different compounds into the lungs, making particles of a precise size and create at the same time a drug vehicle to protect the drug from degradation before reaching the lungs.

Did the RSE Lessells Scholarship contribute to the success of your research project? If yes, how did it help?

The scholarship was used to enable three months of research and experiments at the University of Hong Kong. Thanks to RSE Lessells Scholarship I had the opportunity to test my device, developed at the University of Glasgow, in-vitro in lung cancer’s cells, in one of the most important group working in drug delivery in lungs at the University of Hong Kong. I learned several techniques and the positive results obtained contributed to the completion of my PhD.

Were there any unexpected outcomes?

A post-doctoral research job to continue the project at the University of Glasgow.

What would you have done if you did not receive RSE funding?

I would have not been able to do as many experiments as I did, which contribute to the completion of my PhD, and I would not have had the opportunity to present my results in international conferences and start my network and collaborations in the field.

Did you disseminate your findings to your colleagues (at home and abroad) and/or the general public? If so, how?

I presented the results obtained in Glasgow and Hong Kong to several international conferences (ICBEB 2017 in Canton, China, ICAA 2018 Copenhagen, Denmark and MEDDS 2018 Glasgow, UK). They allowed me to do networking and to establish my international reputation. I am currently writing a publication, based on the results obtained at the University of Hong Kong. Also, I wrote my last experimental chapter of my PhD thesis based on those results.

What was your favourite part of your time abroad?

There are mainly two favourite parts. One is from the research point of view, I learned so many new techniques regarding cell culture and drug delivery in lungs, which I could use also in my future career. The other part is the discovery of the city and of a new culture, which broaden my mind and helped me to grow from my personal point of view.

What do you plan to do now that the award has finished?

I have been offered to continue the research project, as a post-doctoral research assistant, to test the platform in-vivo, in small animal models. I will keep doing research toward the commercialisation of my device and start new collaborations with other institutions in the field.

Would you say that the award was helpful in terms of progressing your career? If so, how?

I improved my time-management skill, learning to plan in a short period of time (3 months) the work to do with limited resources and enhancing also my problem-solving skills. Also, I dealt very well with technicians and PhD students in the laboratory environment, which contributed to improve my ability to communicate with clarity. The scientific discussions I had with people around me were helpful and interesting. My ability to manage a small project considering factor as budget estimation and to plan the experiments and the consumables to use in the laboratory, helped me to be more organised and practical. I also opened myself to a completely different culture, understanding the importance of being open-minded and to learn something from every person.

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of applying for RSE Lessells Travel Scholarship?

My advice would be: plan carefully the experiments to carry out in advance, in case of multidisciplinary subjects, find a group that is complementary to your research group, in order to have a complete study; create collaborations between your institution and the partner institution, look for conferences to apply around the partner institution, where you can present your results.