Dr Matt Simmonds has been an active member of the Society for Endocrinology since joining almost 15 years ago; he now sits on the Public Engagement Committee where he works to encourage scientists to get out of the lab and share their research with the public. In this interview Matt explains his career path and the challenges and triumphs he’s experienced along the way.
Position: University Research Lecturer and Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation Non-Clinical Fellow
Institution: Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism (OCDEM), University of Oxford, UK
What is your research focus? During my PhD and early postdoctoral career at the University of Birmingham, my work focused on the genetic contribution to the common autoimmune disease, Graves’ disease (GD). This provided an opportunity to learn more about the genes involved in the autoimmune disease process and the underlying mechanisms behind these associations. In 2010, I moved to the University of Oxford and was awarded a EFSD/Lilly fellowship and then a DRWF non-clinical fellowship to investigate genetic factors that predict long-term pancreas transplant function in people with type 1 diabetes.
What inspired you to work in/study endocrinology? What I love most about science is when it relates to how the human body works. I find it fascinating how disruption within different systems leads to endocrine disease and how scientific advances in our understanding of these systems can be translated into improved treatments for people with these diseases.
What do you most enjoy about your job? The part I enjoy most about my job is coming up with new hypothesis and being able to test them. Whilst positive results are great, I also believe that negative results are also important, as whatever your findings they always help shape your future research strategy. I also enjoy mentoring up and coming scientists and clinicians and sharing my passion for research and endocrinology with them.
What is your career highlight so far? My first author publication in American Journal of Human Genetics from my PhD looking at the role of the HLA region in autoimmune thyroid disease definitely sticks out. Looking back this was the publication that established me within the endocrine field, with this manuscript being one of only forty-five papers referenced under the Graves’ disease OMIM tab. Another more recent highlight has been getting my fellowships which have enabled me to establish myself as an independent researcher investigating genetic predictors of long-term pancreas transplant function.
How has membership of the Society for Endocrinology helped your career? I first joined the Society back in 2001 and since then I have been to numerous BES meetings, providing an opportunity to present my data and network with colleagues in the field. I also obtained an Early Career Grant from the Society which played a key role in helping me on the path to becoming an independent researcher. I have also been a member of the Science and Public Engagement committees which have provided insights into how large societies work, grant scoring and how to engage with the public, all key skills for any scientist as they advance in their career.
What do you think will be the biggest development in endocrinology in the next 10 years? I think integration of genetic data with information on genomic gene expression, tissue specific expression and systems biology enable us to elucidate how the genetic associations already found for common autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, lead to disease onset and progression.
What are your interests (outside endocrinology!)? I really enjoy spending time with my family and thanks to my son can name all the characters in Chuggington. I enjoy running and swimming. I am also a big movie fan and in particular love zombie movies such as Resident Evil, 28 Days Later, Cockneys vs Zombies (if you haven’t seen the last one . . you won’t be disappointed).
Finally, a very important one, what is your favourite hormone? Definitely insulin. I find it amazing how essential it is within the body and that less than a 100 years ago before its discovery, when people were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes there were no treatments. The subsequent discovery of insulin really shows how scientific discovery can truly change people’s lives. I also have a soft spot for the thyroid stimulating hormones as have these to thank for first sparking my interest in endocrinology.