Dr Maria Velasco-Garcia’s innovative work in developing multiple bio-marker sensing devices to assess animal’s health and welfare could have a significant impact in the early diagnosis of many diseases and could also be used as an initial screening test in zoonotic disease surveillance at abattoirs in the event of some food scares.
The lecturer’s research work has already included developing chemical sensors and biosensors for addressing agricultural problems including faecal contamination in milk and occurrence of veterinary drug residues in the environment. Her work also assessed the use of biosensor technology in solving real problems in the veterinary sector including fertility monitoring and welfare issues like animal stress.
Maria was born and brought up in Spain, where she achieved her first degree in Analytical Chemistry and gained a PhD in optical biosensors at Oviedo University before coming to the UK 10 years ago.
“My school science teacher made chemistry such an exciting subject she recalls. “I knew I wanted to go on to study chemistry at university. I loved spending time in the lab, so did my PhD and in 1998 was awarded a fellowship by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science to work as a researcher at Cranfield University for two years.
Maria then joined Silsoe Research Institute, where she began establishing her research activity in veterinary diagnostics, working with Dr. Toby Mottram.
In 2006 she joined the OU as a lecturer at the Chemistry and Analytical Sciences Department. Her current research projects to develop analytical devices at point of care could have a much wider reach. “Our findings are very important to the veterinary sector, she says, “but they also have the potential to inform developments in clinical diagnostics.
Her latest research is aiming to develop a field-based veterinary diagnostic platform to identify key acute phase proteins – such as C-reactive-protein, serum-amyloid A and haptoglobin – all excellent biomarkers in determining infection, inflammation or trauma. “One single biomarker does not always provide sufficient information about the whole picture. Our multiple marker panel will create a much more comprehensive assessment of health.
Recently she has been awarded a grant from the World Cancer Research Fund and is also working on the detection of biomarkers of DNA damage related to red meat intake and the risk of colorectal cancer in collaboration with MRC Centre for Nutrition and Cancer Prevention and Survival at Cambridge University. “A diet high in red meat has been found to be linked with colorectal cancer in volunteer studies. This is due to DNA damage in the cells that line the colon. High meat consumption is associated with increased endogenous formation of N-nitrosocompound residues that can alter DNA. We aim to develop a novel point-of-care biosensor for the measurement of urinary O6-carboxymethylguanine, formed when DNA is damaged by nitrosated glycine.
Maria loves spending time back home on the northern Atlantic coast of Spain. “I enjoy walking on the long sandy beaches, the wonderful cuisine (especially fresh fish and seafood) and drinking our local cider amongst old friends. She also enjoys gardening “but I do struggle to keep it up to my neighbours’ high standards!
1972 Having a brother!
1987 Starting university
1992 Being awarded my BSc and Barcelona Olympics
1995 Getting my first scientific publication
1998 Getting my PhD and moving to the UK
2000 First job as a research scientist at BBSRC
2001 Buying our first home
2006 Joining the OU in my first lecturing post