Tell us about your career so far
I studied medicine at Cambridge and at an early stage was drawn to a career in surgery because of the opportunities to treat patients by combining scientific knowledge together with intricate surgical skills. During my training, I became fascinated by organ transplantation and identified the scientific field of regenerative medicine as one of the potential solutions to address the scarcity of donor organs. I therefore pursued a PhD in stem cell biology working under Allan Bradley at the Wellcome Sanger Institute (WSI).
I learned how induced pluripotent stem cells can be a powerful system to model diseases and develop cell therapies. They can also be used to study mutations that accumulate in our DNA over the course of our lives, known as somatic mutations. It struck me how little was known about these somatic mutations that accumulate in apparently healthy tissues, and how cells might use certain mutations to gain survival advantages. These concepts formed the bedrock of my subsequent research directions.
Where were you before joining the Crick?
In the last few years, I completed my surgical training in Cambridge as an Academic Clinical Lecturer in transplantation followed by a fellowship at King’s College Hospital. During this time, I expanded my research interests and studied somatic mutations in a variety of human tissues. Through collaborations with my colleagues Serena Nik-Zainal and Peter Campbell, we identified recurrent somatic mutations in several genes, which we hypothesise confer survival benefits to cells in certain situations.
What attracted you to the Crick?
The opportunity to work at the Crick alongside world leading scientists and supported by state-of-the-art science and technology platforms was hugely compelling. The Crick’s vision and substantial support also offer unrivalled opportunities to address major questions in biology, pursue longer term projects and ultimately to extend the frontiers of our scientific knowledge.
What will your lab be working on?
In the Tissue Regeneration and Clonal Evolution (TRCE) laboratory, we are interested in understanding the biological mechanisms central to organ regeneration. Our work will mainly focus on the liver, as it has extraordinary regenerative capabilities. We have already identified several interesting genes that we think are important in allowing liver cells, called hepatocytes, to survive better. We aim to better understand these genes by looking at how mutations affect their functionality. Our long-term vision is to be able to apply our findings to stimulate regeneration in other non-regenerative tissues.
How are you settling into life at the Crick?
I had a few months preparation time ahead of my start at the Crick, so I arranged a few visits where I met the heads of different science technology platforms and potential collaborative groups. I have found everyone to be incredibly helpful and enthusiastic which has greatly helped me to quickly settle in.
How have you found setting up your lab?
As with any major move, it’s been very busy with a lot to do in establishing a new laboratory and learning all about the Crick’s organisation and infrastructure. Being a clinician scientist and the first from King’s College London also added a subtle flavour of complexity to the mix! However, I feel very fortunate to have had considerable support from the HR and service delivery teams as well as mentorship from more senior group leaders which has made the process considerably easier.
Who are you looking forward to working with at the Crick?
One of the major aspects of the Crick which attracted me was the breadth of science and expertise which exists in the Institute. For example, we have already started discussing liver related collaborative projects with Philippa Matthews and Dimitrios Anastasiou. I am also looking forward to exploring new avenues of synergistic research, for example using some of the highly elegant fruit fly models developed by Alex Gould and applying it to our own scientific questions.
And finally - in an alternate universe where you weren’t a researcher, what would you be doing?
I have always admired the focus, dedication, perfectly honed skills and endurance that it takes to be an elite sportsperson. So, in an alternate universe, if I was bestowed with a more consistent serve and better volleying at the net, I would choose to be a professional tennis player!