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He developed a sub-specialty interest in peripheral neuropathy as well as neuropathic pain having trained with Profs Richard Hughes, Mary Reilly and Dr John Scadding; After completion of training he was appointed consultant neurologist at King’s College Hospital and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust. He received an intermediate Wellcome Clinical Scientist fellowship based at King’s College London in 2006 and subsequently obtained a Senior Fellowship. He is a member of the Wellcome Trust funded London Pain Consortium and is vice-director of the ‘Europain’ Investigational Medicines Initiative.
His research interest is to understand the pathogenesis of nerve injury in order to promote nerve repair and prevent the development of neuropathic pain. He takes a broad experimental approach to this problem ranging from the study of transgenic mouse models to the investigation of rare inherited neuropathies and painful channelopathies.
WHAT STARTED YOUR INTEREST IN NEUROSCIENCE?
I intercalated a BSc in neuroscience which sparked my interest in this field. I then received a Wellcome Trust summer vacation scholarship to work with Pat Wall and Steve McMahon at St Thomas’ who taught me many practical skills but more importantly how to approach science with enthusiasm and imagination. At the end of the summer I spent a month visiting Genentech, San Francisco studying neurotrophic factors at a time when new ligands and receptors were being cloned on an almost weekly basis. At this point I was certain I wanted to study how these important signalling molecules may have a role in sensory neuronal survival and plasticity. Upon my return I received a scholarship to undertake an intercalated PhD and I was hooked on neuroscience.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN NEUROSCIENCE OVER THE NEXT 5-10 YEARS?
We now have some amazing technology platforms to study the nervous system whether at the level of gene expression in individual neurons to brain imaging. It is a significant challenge to combine datasets across such disparate technologies in order to understand the integrated function of the nervous system. What makes pain biology so interesting is that advance will only be made by using such a multidisciplinary approach. On a practical level the knowledge of the molecular events mediating somatosensation has increased exponentially over the last two decades we now need to focus on turning this new knowledge into patient benefit.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?
Dating back to my PhD and post-doctoral work I demonstrated that nerve growth factor modulates the sensitivity of sensory neurons in adulthood and is an important inflammatory pain mediator. This has led to the development of humanised monoclonals to NGF by a number of companies which have since shown efficacy in phase III clinical trials. It has been interesting to see the drug development process in action although there is still some way to go prior to such drugs being licensed.