Our latest blog is written by Liesbeth Desmet, a PhD student at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). She recently participated in our early-stage researcher bursary programme to visit the University of Liverpool and expand her knowledge of AKU research:

I am a PhD student at the VUB, researching metabolic disorders, including AKU. As I delved deeper into AKU, it became clear there was still lots for me to learn about the condition. Being part of the AKU Society scientific network will help me to learn more about AKU and contribute to improving the lives of patients.

Thanks to the support of the AKU Society, I had the opportunity to go on a three-week research visit to the University of Liverpool. The focus of my visit was to gain experience of the AKU mouse model which I will be using during my PhD.

 During my visit, I learnt about Schmorl’s staining, which is the way to score the level of ochronosis present in the joints. The hands-on experience in the lab allowed me to get a closer look at the staining techniques and follow the process from start to finish, offering a comprehensive introduction to evaluating ochronosis.

 In preparation for my visit, I explored the literature around Schmorl’s staining to understand the technique, but having the opportunity to do it myself revealed a whole new layer of complexity. The visit was a valuable experience to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

I now have the opportunity to share my knowledge I gained in Liverpool with our lab at VUB, which will contribute to our future research into AKU. My PhD project will focus on engineering an enzyme to tackle the elevated tyrosine levels associated with nitisinone treatment.

My three weeks in Liverpool was also the perfect occasion to discover a new city. Liverpool was a joy to explore, from the historic Albert Dock to the iconic Beatles landmarks, every moment was charming. The city’s vibrant energy and welcoming atmosphere made these three weeks memorable.

I am grateful to the AKU Society for their support and to the group of Professor George Bou-Gharios at the University of Liverpool for providing a warm welcome. I would also like to thank Juliette Hughes, Hazel Sutherland, and Brendan Norman for sharing their expertise with me. This experience contributed significantly to my academic and research journey and highlights the importance of seizing every opportunity to engage and build a strong network with fellow researchers. I would like to thank the whole team, I really had a great time in Liverpool!

More information on our bursary scheme and how to apply can be found here