What is the current focus of your research, and what do you find most rewarding about your work?
My main research focus is on the policies and practices required to foster translation of stem cell discoveries into safe and effective clinical care. I am particularly interested in how patients view access to stem cell interventions and what information they draw upon to inform their views. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my work is its breadth and interdisciplinary nature. While my training in developmental biology provided little exposure to humanities, I now work with scholars from across diverse disciplines on a daily basis, greatly enriching my research and its impact. I also feel privileged to work closely with many inspiring individuals and community organisations who make such a difference to the lives of people living with illness and disability.
What led you to become a scientist and to stem cell research?
From my earliest days in high school, I loved science and especially biology. While completing my science undergraduate degree I worked in a pathology lab, then in the late ‘80s landed a job as a trainee clinical embryologist in the then fledgling IVF industry. A desire to do further studies led to a PhD in mouse embryonic stem cells and pluripotency, back at in time when therapeutic cloning (aka somatic cell nuclear transfer) was the only way to explore nuclear reprogramming. Public reaction to my proof-of-concept paper for therapeutic cloning in 2001 led to my last twenty years working at the intersection of policy, ethics, and public understanding of stem cell science.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
Contextualising developments in the field and their implications for those curious to know more. This includes policy makers, teachers, students, and members of the broader community. I particularly enjoy working with students who aspire to work in research, and patients and their families who hope to one day benefit from advances in stem cell science.
What guidance would you share in talking with trainees interested in pursuing your area of research?
Get involved. No matter what aspect of stem cell research you work in, there are opportunities to participate in discussions about the ethical and societal implications of your work. Start by sharing ideas about the latest developments with colleagues in your lab or maybe your nearest and dearest at home. Perhaps offer to give a talk to your old high school or local community group. Share your knowledge to unravel the often-simplistic news coverage but be prepared to listen to the opinions of others. Also make sure you come along to the Ethics Focus Session at each ISSCR meeting to hear about the latest issues.
Do you have any mentors or individuals who have inspired you in your stem cell work?
I have been extremely fortunate to have many different mentors, many outside science, during my 20+ years in stem cell research. All have inspired and supported me but if I’m forced to name one, I’d nominate John Gurdon. While it would be overstating it to say he was a mentor, John’s original work in frog cloning inspired my PhD, and the opportunity to meet with him as a student and discuss my work was very special.
How do you spend your free time?
Reading. I love losing myself in a good book.
What is something your peers would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a thalassophile. While you won’t find me on a surfboard, my happiest place is by the ocean, preferably in the shade with a book in hand.
What do you most value about your membership with the ISSCR?
Connections. Being a member of ISSCR has enabled me to meet and learn from researchers from across the globe, exposing me to new ideas and providing me with opportunities to make a genuine difference to our field. My association with ISSCR has been absolutely pivotal in how my career has evolved over the last 15 years and my achievements in policy reform and community engagement.