Introduction

Oliver Ziff, 2019 intake Crick-NIHR UCLH BRC doctoral clinical fellow, Nicholas Luscombe’s lab and Rickie Patani’s lab, now NIHR Academic Clinical Lecturer and Visiting Scientist, The Francis Crick Institute. 

I studied medicine at the University of Birmingham and, because of my strong interest in the scientific mechanisms of disease, I pursued an intercalated degree in Physiology. Whilst at university I combined my studies with competing internationally in the sport of triathlon. My interest in sports combined with physiology led me to undertake summer studentships studying cardiovascular physiology and disease.

One aspect of research I particularly enjoy is the detective challenge. For my project on motor neurone disease, I feel very enthusiastic at the prospect of being able to contribute to the understanding of the disease.

I was selected on the Academic Foundation Programme at University College London, where I studied ischaemia reperfusion injury in Professor Yellon’s team. This gave me a strong grounding in wet laboratory science and I greatly enjoyed the detective nature of this project and being able to discover novel findings. I completed my Core Medical Training, where I had experiences in a variety of specialties including haematology, cardiology and gastroenterology but it was my rotations in neurology and stroke that gave me a passion to study neurological disease. Neurological disease can be severely debilitating and I am passionate to help these patients through undertaking translational research. 
 
I was awarded a place on the Academic Clinical Fellowship (ACF) in Neurology at UCL and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, Queen Square. During this ACF, my experience of bioinformatic research into motor neurone disease (MND) inspired me to undertake a PhD. I particularly liked this computational project, making sense of large datasets using analytical and statistical techniques. Being in Professors Luscombe and Patani’s labs has provided me the perfect opportunity to develop my skills in complex statistical analyses and coding in bash, Python and R but also enabled me to grasp a deeper understanding of molecular biology, with a focus on post transcriptional RNA processing. 
 
One aspect of research I particularly enjoy is the detective challenge. For my project on MND, which is an aggressive neurodegenerative disease, the goal is to uncover the earliest molecular mechanisms that drive disease to expose therapeutic targets. I have been analysing RNA splicing changes and the toxic impact that reactive astrocytes have on neighbouring motor neurons in MND. I feel very enthusiastic at the prospect of being able to contribute to the understanding of the disease.
 
I have been very impressed by the interdisciplinary nature of the institute. For my project Professor Patani’s neurodevelopment stem cell lab and Professor Luscombe’s computational lab provide a superb environment to approach the same problem from orthogonal perspectives. One of the great assets of the Crick is the collaborative nature of the building. The open spaces, glass doors, the massive canteen all help break down hierarchy and create an open and friendly environment. Nowhere else have I seen people from all levels and areas within an institution eat in the same place!

The Crick offers a huge variety of research training. The Crick PhD scheme is very well organized and provides a broad training in basic science. There is a great selection of courses in statistics and programming, as well as regular world-renowned talks, for example through Medicine at the Crick series. This makes the Crick an ideal training environment with huge opportunities to develop a strong research portfolio which will enable me to develop as a clinical-academic

Update, autumn 2023:

Since wrapping up my PhD in early 2023, I boomeranged straight back into the whirlwind of clinical neurology training at Queen Square. I've done rotations in complex headache, epilepsy, and acute neurology - the pharmaceutical world has been busy since I embarked on my PhD back in 2019 with lots of new drugs to learn about! Back in the clinic, it's been a wild ride – the pace is quick, and it's a symphony of organised chaos. But nothing quite matches the instant satisfaction you get from making a real difference in someone's life. 

I was recently awarded an NIHR academic clinical lectureship at UCL, allowing me to balance my ongoing research endeavors with my clinical duties. I'm excited to get my research back up and running. One of the key takeaways from my PhD was the realisation that there's no model that can truly mimic the complexity of the human nervous system. So, my research plans are to explore innovative ways to study the causes of neurodegeneration using living human samples. 

Oliver Ziff’s Crick research page and publications