Claire Bourke

Favourite Thing: Discussing ideas and getting creative designing new experiments; it’s great to spend time thinking “what do we want to know?” and “how could we find that out?”



I went to school in Newcastle upon Tyne (1991 – 2003) and studied at the University of Edinburgh (2004 – 2007)


Bachelor of Science degree (BSc) in immunology; PhD in parasitic worm immunology

Work History:

I spent 3 years after my PhD researching how schistosomes (a type of parasitic worm) activate immune responses as they burrow through the skin (University of York, 2011 – 2014)

Current Job:

Post-doctoral research immunologist focusing on human immune responses in HIV infection and malnutrition


Queen Mary University of London

About Me

I live in London where I spend my time cycling through the beautiful city, running in parks and nearby woods, swimming outdoors, creative writing and volunteering (when I’m not in the laboratory of course!).

I’m a bit of a coffee addict and I’m well known amongst my friends for talking too much!

My Work

I am an immunologist investigating how infections (including parasites) and the treatments that clear them affect the cells of the human immune system.

My Typical Day

My days are very varied, so some days I spend all my time in the laboratory and on others I could be analysing data at my desk or attending a meeting about new discoveries in immunology.

To set up a typical experiment I collect blood samples from healthy and infected people and isolate immune cells so that I can investigate their function; this can take several days and lots of interesting laboratory techniques. I also spend plenty of time answering emails, writing about my experiments, reading about the interesting research being conducted elsewhere, and solving problems in the lab.

What I'd do with the money

I’d love to develop an immunology-themed game for school children to play when they visit our science outreach centre here in London

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Determined, Curious, Enthusiastic

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I really enjoy jazz – older musicians like Nina Simone and Miles Davis and a much newer band called Roller Trio

What's your favourite food?

Jacket potatoes are my ultimate comfort food

What is the most fun thing you've done?

So many things! Teaching my niece to ROOOOAAAARRR like a lion; swimming in the sea; hiking up mountains; playing board games with a big group of friends…

What did you want to be after you left school?

First I wanted to be David Attenborough (!), then an author, then a vet, then a zoologist, then a geneticist…I couldn’t make my mind up

Were you ever in trouble at school?

I was pretty well behaved at school. I loved answering questions, reading books and doing dissections in Biology. I was very quiet then, but nobody believes that now!

What was your favourite subject at school?

I loved English and Biology

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

My favourite moments in science are when you see something happen for the first time. It is a very special feeling to discover something new about the way our biology works, especially as it often takes a lot of attempts to get experiments right

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

I’ve always been fascinated by how science can be used to improve health – just look back into the history books at the illnesses that used to be deadly, but now we know how to treat them armed with new drugs and vaccines. Parasites themselves are pretty inspiring too, they get me wondering how on earth they developed the ability to so effectively dodge our immune systems!

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

Hmmm, that’s a tough one! Most likely I would work for an organisation trying to improve human health and improve access to existing treatments for disease

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

I’d wish for the ability to: 1) run without getting tired; 2) speak every language there is, and, 3) get all of my experiments to work perfectly first time!

Tell us a joke.

Why did the E. coli go to the opera? Because they were cultured bacteria

Other stuff

Work photos:

Here are some examples of what I do:


Parasites and immune cells are far too small to see with the naked eye, so I spend a lot of time using laboratory machines that help me to visualise them. I often use a machine called a flow cytometer, which allows me to analyse one cell at a time and see what groups of immune cells are doing. When I worked at the University of York, I used fluorescent dyes and a powerful microscope to make the larvae (infective stage) of a parasitic worms called schistosomes turn green so that they were easier to see (left). I also used fluorescent antibodies to label different skin cells after schistosome infections so I could see which ones were activated to start dividing (middle; all cells in the image have a blue nucleus, the green dots are dividing cells, the red cells are the top layer of skin). There are even more powerful microscopes called electron microscopes, which allowed me to see schistosomes in much more detail (right).


I also have the opportunity to go out to Zimbabwe, where I work with scientists and local communities to investigate immune responses to infections that occur there. During my PhD I was involved in a study of schistosome infections, which involved collecting samples from school children who were at risk of infection (left) and measuring their immune responses to parasites in a nearby laboratory. This involved lots and lots of blood samples, which I processed by day (middle) and by night (right)! In my current job, I work with blood samples collected from healthy people, HIV-infected and malnourished people in London and Zimbabwe. I am trying to understand how faulty immune responses can make people more unwell and how we might restore healthy immune function.