Meet Science and Engineering leader of tomorrow - Owen Rackham

Supplementary content information

Owen Rackham is involved in a field of modern medicine that could one day be able to re-programme cells in the human body to combat conditions such as Alzheimers. Owen describes how his research incorporates biology, maths and computing.

Owen is involved in an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) campaign called New Outlooks in Science and Engineering (NOISE).

You must select the video player for these keys to function.

Keyboard shortcut Function
Spacebar Play/Pause when the seek bar is selected. Activate a button if a button has focus.
Play/Pause Media Key on keyboards Play / Pause.
K Pause/Play in player.
Stop Media Key on keyboards Stop.
Next Track Media Key on keyboards Moves to the next track in a playlist.
Left/Right arrow on the seek bar Seek backward/forward 5 seconds.
J Seek backward 10 seconds in player.
L Seek forward 10 seconds in player.
Home/End on the seek bar Seek to the beginning/last seconds of the video.
Up/Down arrow on the seek bar Increase/Decrease volume 5%.
Numbers 1 to 9 on the seek bar (not on the numeric pad) Seek to the 10% to 90% of the video.
Number 0 on the seek bar  (not on the numeric pad) Seek to the beginning of the video.
Number 1 or Shift+1 Move between H1 headers.
/ Go to search box.
F Activate full screen. If full screen mode is enabled, activate F again or press escape to exit full screen mode. 
C Activate closed captions and subtitles if available. To hide captions and subtitles, activate C again. 
Shift+N Move to the next video (If you are using a playlist, will go to the next video of the playlist. If not using a playlist, it will move to the next YouTube suggested video).
Shift+P Move to the previous video. Note that this shortcut only works when you are using a playlist. 


My name’s Owen I’m a PhD student at the University of Bristol. My research is into something called computational molecular biology. It sounds like an awful big mouthful, but what it is really is we’re looking for patterns in the way that cells develop in your body. The reason that we are interested in doing this, is because we hope that if we can understand how your cells develop naturally, we might be able to use that to our own advantage to create new medical applications and to create new therapies that we can use to help people with diseases or people who have suffered injury.

So, for instance, one of the applications that might become possible is that simply by taking some skin cells, you can do this by swiping the inside of your mouth like you may have seen on detective shows on the television, it may be possible in the future to use those cells and re-programme them, that’s change their type so to change them from skin cells into maybe liver cells or heart cells, and actually in the laboratory to culture these into an organ which this means that we can create an organ that is specific to the patient. So that if we use it in transplant there’s no chance of rejection, because as far as your body is concerned it’s cells that it has made itself.

There’s also a chance that with some degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, these tend to happen because there’s a breakdown in the processes that are taking place in the cells in your brain and we think that there may be a chance to use these techniques that we are working towards to actually show the cells or to coax the cells back into a state where they are operating normally to combat these sorts of degenerative diseases that we are seeing more and more of.

Since I've been quite young, science and maths and problem solving has been something that has appealed to me, I guess that’s really what led me into science. I have the opportunity with my job to work on problems that there aren’t any known solutions to and that’s kind of quite exhilarating in terms of a work environment. I know that if I concentrate and I work on the problem that I have in mind that I might actually be the first person to come up with the solution.