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International Year of Light - Claudia Garcia Guzman

Claudia Garcia Guzman

Tell us about your PhD project

My research focuses on the diagnosis of lung cancer, particularly in its early stages.

The current options for treatment of cancer such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy or nodule resection are highly invasive and do not address the spread of cancer to other parts of the body. Cancer aberration processes are associated to an increase in the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS).

Chemical probes that can specifically detect these species have a great potential to be used as medical diagnostics and research tools for cancer imaging.

The aim of my project is the design and synthesis of fluorescent-active probes. These are based on small molecule fluorophores that are modified with chemically active sites. The activation of these sites by defined targets (e.g. ROS) results in the activation of the fluorophore and subsequent emission of a fluorescent signal.

So far we have developed and synthesised two libraries of fluorescence probes for the detection of ROS.  We have performed in vitro assays to evaluate the fluorescence response of all our probes as well as experiments in relevant live cells. This has allowed us to assess their application for real-time detection of ROS in live cells.

Why is light important to your research?

My project is based on optical imaging that uses light to excite the fluorophores. The fluorophores I synthesize are able to absorb light at a particular wavelength and an excited electronic state is created. Subsequently, there is a loss of energy by emission of light of a longer wavelength and this deactivation process is called fluorescence.

Describe your average day of PhD work here in the School of Chemistry

I work in the laboratory doing organic synthesis. Setting up reactions, working-up and purifying the fluorophores. My compounds are coloured dyes that make my fume hood looks like a different picture every day!

When I finish the libraries of fluorophore probes I develop the spectral characterisation and the biological assays at QMRI (Queen???s Medical Research Institute).

Claudia's fume hood

A look at what Claudia's fume hood looks like. Different days can bring different colours.

What do you enjoy doing when you are not in the lab?

I love travelling so when I have free time and money I try to go away from Edinburgh, preferably to a place with sun. I like spending time with friends and meeting new people, listening to music, playing badminton, reading psychology books, dancing and when I feel inspired I write short novels.

What is your favourite chemical reaction?

I am curious about the reaction between potassium and water that one cannot find in the nature.

Potassium is a highly reactive metal. When it is exposed to air, it will quickly interact with oxygen and water vapor. Expose it to liquid water, however, and things get especially explosive, rapidly generating potassium hydroxide and hydrogen gas, the latter of which quickly ignites. It reacts so violently with water, in fact, that it is actually stored in anhydrous oil so that when you remove it from a storage container it doesn't interact with water vapor in the air.