I grew up in a former mining town in the midlands. Although not from a medical family, I knew from my early teens that I wanted to be a medic. After training in London, Oxford and Preston, I settled in Manchester with my wife and two children. I’ve been a Consultant Neurologist and Director of the MND Care Center in Manchester since 2005.
How and why did you get into MND research?
Anyone working with people living with MND understands the desire to strive toward more effective treatments and perhaps equally important, better symptom control. Although as a full time NHS Consultant, my research is now more patient-based for much of my training I “moonlighted” in laboratories in London and Oxford. As one of the researchers in white coats and goggles staring at test tubes that you see on the TV and I can assure you that the reality is far from the miraculous labs of “House” and “Silent Witness” as advances in diseases such as MND takes years of often laborious work by scientists. Only a small proportion of the work hits the headlines but the incremental gain of knowledge has been hugely helpful.
Can you briefly describe the research you are currently involved in?
Gone are my days of laboratory research; the demands of the NHS don’t sit well with the complexity of lab work. However, I maintain a keen interest in the developments and especially when they have an effect on people living with MND.
The team in Manchester recruited to the LiCALs, DiPALs, SCALES, Heads Up and the MNDA DNA bank as well as identifying patients that led to the discovery of the C9orf72 gene. We’re currently recruiting for TONIC and 100,000 Genomes study, will be recruiting to a study looking to support those caring for people living with MND and remain primed for the next treatment trial.
What do you enjoy most about your job as a researcher?
There are so many things in life we don’t understand as yet. Any progress toward a greater understanding as to what makes us tick is hugely important.
What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
I once managed to sub-clone a gene from the human pubic louse; I wasn’t planning to do so and to this day I have no idea how it happened. I guess any hope for a Nobel Prize for that is out of the question?
Designing and making a muscle protein that fluoresced and allowed researchers to watch it in real time as this protein was made and transported to the surface of muscle cells was pretty good although less colleagues laughed than with the pubic louse result.
Who do you admire the most?
People like Nelson Mandela and Ghandi get all the well-deserved kudos, but anyone who shows tenacity and perseverance against the odds gets my vote. That pretty much sums up people living with MND.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
I run up mountains, take photos and then run back down again. During that process I take care not to fall or get lost as doing either would require me to call out the local mountain rescue team; imagine the embarrassment of having to be rescued by your own team!
There are also some people in my house that identify themselves as my wife and two children. I suppose I chat to them occasionally.