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From nurturing co-cultures of motor neurons to GB trials... The tricky time management of our elite student-athletes

Updated: Apr 29

James Doran recently finished 3rd in the April GB trials in Caversham, but where most of his competition would have gone home to put their feet up for a well-deserved rest, James was back in the lab that evening nurturing co-cultures of motor neurons…

While many OUBC alumni were off on pre-Olympic camps ahead of the World Cup series, the best of the nation’s remaining athletes battled it out at Caversham in the GB Trials. Some pretty rough and windy conditions for the time trials and semi-finals, switched to flat conditions for the finals, where the OUBC and its alumni delivered some top results: Juliette Perry and Amelia Stanning won the women’s trails and Sarah Marshall finished brilliantly in 5th (Juliette’s story is worthy of a separate account of how the Oxford Development pathway is taking rowers from novices to the top of the sport); James Doran finish 3rd in the pair, with other solid performances from Freddy Orpin, Saxon Stacey and Gabe Reynolds.

But it’s what James has been doing around this elite rowing performance that really encapsulates the lifestyle balance and all-round drive of OUBC’s elite student-athletes…

“In simple terms, I’m trying to replicate the neuromuscular junction and study it... Each active phase takes about 45 days and involves me thawing individual stem cells that are stored in liquid nitrogen, growing them into motor neurons, putting them onto muscle fibres and testing them.
Once the motor neurons and muscle fibres have grown together, I infect them with a virus that makes the motor neurons light sensitive. When I then stimulate them, I can see muscle contraction under the microscope. These investigations can provide insight into what is happening within ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), one of the common types of motor neuron disease and may in-turn help develop better treatment.”

The study requires a huge commitment and the intensive tissue culture work means that James will be hooded and gloved, in sterile conditions for many hours a day.

“It’s a tricky balance with rowing and I have to plan my training precisely at least 6 weeks in advance… Where I will be for every day and how I will get back to the lab in time.”
But James, like all our other OUBC squad members, shows this balance of time-management, skill, dedication and physical sacrifice on a daily basis. The OUBC epitomises what it takes to for a body of young women and men to excel as student-athletes and as a Club we see this experience as the catalyst to producing such exceptional and successful alumni.
“The balance is tough but workable and I love it. I have done two Boat Races, won the Ladies Plate at Henley last year and just come third at GB trials… I’d recommend this to any top student-athlete rowers out there. Apply to Oxford!”

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