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Women in Science

Fran did a BSc at Imperial College, London, and a PhD at the University of Bath. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Washington University Medical School in St Louis, USA. Since returning to the UK she has focused on how the abnormal accumulation of glycosphingolipids results in pathology in lysosomal storage diseases, and is actively involved in developing therapies for these children.

Portrait of Fran Platt© Women in Science


at the time of the interview – January 2015

Fran is a Professor of Biochemistry and Pharmacology. She has two children. 

Extended biography

at the time of the interview - January 2015

As a child Fran was very interested in insects. Her father was a GP so she was also interested in human disease and she had an inspiring biology teacher. She obtained a BSc in zoology at Imperial College, University of London, and a PhD in animal physiology from the University of Bath. While she was at Bath she also became interested in immunology.

Fran went with her husband to St Louis, USA, where she finished writing up her PhD. She approached the head of the Immunology Department at Washington University Medical School, and was offered a postdoctoral fellowship. Fran and her husband were in the USA for four years. During her final year the person Fran was working for at the Medical School took a job as head of Research and Development for Searle, the pharmaceutical arm of Monsanto, so his lab moved there, and Fran went too, as a basic scientist, so was exposed to the way big companies work. She also became interested in antiviral drugs. Searle had a lab in Oxford, so when Fran returned to the UK in 1989 to join the Biochemistry Department at the University, the company paid her salary.

I think that we have a lack of mentoring for young women in science to say, ‘Apply for the Fellowship.’ You need someone to push you and to say, ‘Yes, you’re ready.’

Then Fran applied for and won a Lister Institute Research Fellowship award. This was a five year fellowship, which was extended by six months because during this time Fran had twins, and so needed six months maternity leave. The fellowship paid her salary even though she was away from work. Fran managed to return to work after six months, with the help of a very supportive husband, good child care at home, supportive colleagues and flexible hours. In 2006 Fran moved to the Department of Pharmacology. Since returning to the UK she has focused on how the abnormal accumulation of glycosphingolipids results in pathology in the lysosomal storage diseases. Her research has led to the development of a drug (miglustat/Zavesca) for glycosphingolipid storage disease therapy. She was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2011.

Fran has a busy life, running a lab with over 15 people, finding funding for their salaries, writing papers, and doing administrative and committee work, but she thinks that science is a fantastic career and she says that she would encourage others to make a career in science, especially if they feel passionately about their subject. Background/Nationality: White British.