Kath O'Reilly

Hello! What a great chat earlier today - if ther was anything I didn't answer why not add it below!



I was at St. Marks School, Hounslow, Middlesex from 1992-1999. I did my GCSEs and A levels there


I was at the University of Warwick from 1999-2006. I studied Biology and got a bachelors degree and a doctorate in quantitative biology

Work History:

When I was a student I worked at a vet surgery cleaning cages and making cups of tea for everyone. For quite a few summers I worked at an aquatic centre – where people buy live fish for aquariums. This job was great! After graduation I worked at the Veterinary Laboratory Agency – which is the ‘NHS’ for animals in England and Wales. I then worked at the University of Glasgow, in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine


I work at Imperial College, London. I’m in the Faculty of Medicine, and work in the Department for Infectious Disease Epidemiology

Current Job:

I look at why people are affected by the disease polio (see ‘me and my work’) – despite a global plan that began 20 years ago to remove polio from the World.

Me and my work

I look at why vaccination works! (and why it doesn’t always work)

I currently work on a disease called polio, which affects young children. Polio is a virus, which is spread through coming into contact with other infected children and sewerage. When children get infected by the virus, they can develop disease, which can vary from not being able to walk to sometimes dying. The virus affects the muscles, so if they can’t walk, this would be the leg muscles, and death comes from not being able to breathe, this is becuase the muscles that control the lungs don’t work. There is a vaccine, which when a child receives it, protects the child from getting disease. Almost everybody in the UK will have been vaccinated against polio when they were young.

Right now I’m trying to figure out why there have been so many polio cases in Pakistan recently. Pakistan unfortunately has many cases right now, even though many children get vaccinated. So I look at the location of cases and how well children have been vaccinated to see how we can stop there being cases.

I’m lucky because I work with some really great people. In particular there’s the people at the World Health Organisation, who work tirelessly to find cases of polio, and vaccinate a lot of children. By a lot, I mean about 20 million children in Pakistan over 2 days! And this happens in many countries, many times during the year, so a lot of planning is needed. This can be difficult, and I help them so figure out how best to target vaccination to those who most need it.

To figure out how best to vaccinate children, I look at information on where polio cases are and when children were vaccinated. The vaccine isn’t a ‘magic bullet’, so everyone needs at least three rounds of the vaccine to be protected from disease. So I use some maths and my computer to look at how well the vaccine protects children (for example, should children need just three doses of the vaccine, or would more doses be better?) and where in Pakistan the vaccine should be used more.

My Typical Day

I use a computer to help me solve problems, for example finding the number of cases of polio within a country

What I'd do with the money

I’d create “Zombie Sim” – being a zombie in many ways is like getting a cold (pale face, dribbling, etc…!).

“Zombie Sim” would be something that school kids can use to create their own type of zombie, and try out different ways to stop the zombies from spreading. We can use different ways for a ‘zombie-ness’ to spread; biting, eating, sneezing, and see how this changes ‘the spread of the zombies’. You’d be suprised how similar these are to diseases that affect humans!

Why zombies? Well I think it would be more fun to experiment with different types of zombie-ness to look at possible ways to control the spread of the zombies.  I would add in comparisons to real human diseases, but looking at zombies would be more light-hearted. There is also some published research on the attack of the zombies, see this BBC link for a description.

I’d visit some schools with “Zombie Sim” to try it out. My aim would be that by using this ‘hands on’ simulator, we will all have a better understanding of how different diseases spread, and how best to control them.

The money would be used to develop a website, and hopefully some software. The software bit might be a bit tricky, as it’s not easy, but we’ll give it a go! Then I need to visit some schools and make sure it works, and that you find it useful!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

geeky, sporty, happy!

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Really liking ‘The Vaccines’ – their name and my research is a complete co-incidence honest!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Tracking bottlenose dolphins in the West Coast of Scotland a few summers ago

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

3 ponies please!

What did you want to be after you left school?

A vet – doesn’t everyone at some point?

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Yes – I was often late for school. And the occasional prank towards various teachers

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

I showed that farmers can remove a particular disease in sheep by vaccinating

Tell us a joke.

A horse walks into a bar….. barman says, “why the long face?” (ah, the old ones are always the best!)