My research group is run jointly with Adele Lehane, who is a DECRA Fellow and who takes the lead role in much of what we do. The focus of our group is on the molecular physiology of the malaria parasite and, in particular, the membrane proteins that move ions, nutrients, and metabolic byproducts into and out of the parasite. It is becoming increasingly clear that a high proportion of the antimalarial compounds that are now being identified in high throughput robotic screens of chemical libraries exert their parasite-killing effect by targeting these ‘membrane transport proteins’. We have an ongoing dialogue with the primary antimalarial drug-development agency, using our physiological assays to screen candidate antimalarials. It has been interesting to see how a body of work in a fundamental area (in this case malaria parasite physiology) can have unforeseen translational applications.
The thing I enjoy most about research is interacting with early career scientists – students and postdocs – poring over new data together, formulating hypotheses, designing new experiments, as well as talking about careers in science and life in general. I have been extremely fortunate in having had very many highly talented people through the lab, and the successes that the lab has had are very much due to them.
Undergraduate teaching has also been one of the joys of my professional life. Despite the challenges that it presents for my Dean’s diary, I lecture into both first year Molecular Biology and second year Cell Physiology. I enjoy the particular challenges of lecturing to a large first year class. Holding everyone’s attention is a constant struggle, with some of the class having covered all of the material previously at school or elsewhere, some finding it new and difficult, and some finding it ‘just right’. Keeping everyone engaged requires a range of strategies.
Having said all this, the reality of my life as Dean is that I spend almost all day every day in meetings, either with people from within the College, or people from around the broader university. The sort of satisfaction that comes from this is different from the pleasures that come from research or teaching, but it is, nonetheless, very real. This university is full of extraordinarily talented people and it's a privilege to have a job that involves spending time with them and learning about what they do.
- This article originally appeared in the RSB Newsletter, Issue 84, March 2017.