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Opinion30th May 2019

Ark student stories: “When a problem arises, I want to dismantle it”

Sara is a year 13 A-level student at Ark Academy in Wembley, north London. She has a conditional offer to attend Imperial College, where she plans to study biochemistry.

About eight years ago, I was diagnosed with arthritis. Because I was a child back then, they didn’t tell me much about the causes or treatments and I became curious about the disease. There was no history of arthritis in my family and researching it on my own led to my love of DNA and finding out more about how it works.

It’s been quite a struggle to balance my health with my schoolwork. I’ve grown up with arthritis and I’ve managed to make sure it isn’t too much of a hindrance. My school, Ark Academy, has been really supportive. Stairs can be difficult for me. Writing long essays can be difficult. But I feel like I’ve managed to deal with it and make arthritis more my friend than my enemy. I’m grateful because it has really helped me figure out what I want to do with my life. I don’t regret having arthritis and I want to help others deal with this issue.

Arthritis is multifactorial – there isn’t a specific gene or circumstance that has been found to cause it. I want to study biochemistry in uni, so I can find out more about any specific causes of the disease, which can help in the search for a treatment that is more efficient and less harmful to patients than the current treatments. I want to get my masters and eventually a PhD.

I’ve been going to lectures about DNA for a long time and I attend a STEM programme at Imperial College, which is what got me really interested in going to uni there. I’ve also heard about gene editing techniques, such as CRISPR-Cas9, which is used to edit genomes in a synthetic template and can be used to treat things like cystic fibrosis. It can’t be used for arthritis but this approach could point towards new treatments.

I think I’ve always been really driven and motivated – it’s my personality. When a problem arises, I want to dismantle it, take it apart and solve it. It’s the same with taking a test or figuring out DNA. If you get something wrong, you find out more about it and then you try to do better the next time.