What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?
For the last 25 years my research has sought to better define the clinical heterogeneity of two common neurodegenerative disorders of the CNS - namely Parkinson's (PD) and Huntington's disease (HD) - and the neurobiological basis of this. This is now being done using patient derived induced neurons. In addition, I have sought to define the best way by which to take new therapies into the clinic including cell based trials for patients with these conditions, which of late has moved towards a stem cell derived dopamine cell therapy for PD.
What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?
I initially sought to be a medical doctor because I wanted to help patients and their families as well as solve the problem of what caused their symptoms and signs. Over time I have sought to bring these two ambitions together by working in the clinic and the lab to better understand disease processes and develop translational therapies to help patients, including stem cell based approaches.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
There are so many aspects of my work that I enjoy and find exciting. This includes (i) discovering new findings in the lab; (ii) seeing patients and helping them better understand and then treat their condition; (iii) seeing new people enter research and encouraging those at an early stage of careers; and most of all (iv) working within a team to make a difference in patients lives.
What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?
I would tell people who want to become clinician scientists to (i) be patient and make sure you get properly trained in science and clinical practice - while you will lag behind your colleagues who do one or the other to begin with, you will ultimately be someone with a unique and valued skill set; (ii) do what you enjoy doing and don’t follow the crowds and trends but stick to what you believe in and accept that sometimes your research field will be what everyone is talking about and other times it will be talked about in the past tense; (iii) collaborate and work as a team and avoid the temptation of trying to do it all yourself- it is much more rewarding working together to solve problems than relying on just yourself; (iv) be prepared for rejection as we all have this with grants and papers etc, but don’t lose heart because if you are determined to succeed, you will.
Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?
In my undergraduate days it was the late Tom (TPS) Powell who was one of the great neuroanatomists of the late 20th century- he gave me my passion for neuroscience. Next it was the late David Marsden who was the most brilliant clinician scientist I ever came across. He believed in and encouraged me when I was just a medical student and junior doctor and shared for my vision for cell based therapies for PD well before it became more mainstream. Finally, a whole raft of scientists in Cambridge now, who do science just because they want to find an answer to a question and not for any other reason and continue to do so years after retiring, such as Sir John Gurdon.
How do you spend your free time?
I love walking and playing/watching sports as well as spending time with my family. I love reading novels and listening to music.
What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?
That every month, during weekends, I help run a crèche, or daycare, for under 4 year olds.
What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?
The ability to keep up to date with stem cell research and to meet and interact with researchers at all stages of their career involved in this work. I also love the aims of the ISSCR and my ability to work with them to shape a better future for stem cell therapies for patients globally.