Meet the Endocrinologists: Rowan Hardy and Louise Hunter

On the countdown to SfE BES 2017 we interviewed Dr Rowan Hardy (left) and Dr Louise Hunter (middle right), both members of the Early Career Steering Group. Dr Hardy is an Arthritis Research UK Career Development Fellow at the University of Birmingham, and his research focuses on the role of steroid metabolism in chronic inflammatory disease. Dr Hunter, MRC Clinical Research Training Fellow at the University of Manchester, specialises on the interaction between the body clock and the action of stress hormones.

In this interview, Rowan and Louise tell us about their careers in endocrinology and reveal their upcoming highlights for this year’s SfE BES conference in Harrogate, 6-8 November.

Q: Would you tell us a bit more about your career so far? How did you become interested in endocrinology?

Rowan: Since my degree I have always had a passion for endocrinology and immunology. In my first post-doctoral position I developed collaborations between leading endocrinologists and rheumatologists at the University of Birmingham. Through these connections I got to combine my interests by studying the role of glucocorticoid metabolism in tissue biopsies from patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Louise: I’ve been interested in stress hormone biology for over ten years, since doing an intercalated BSc in Pharmacology whilst at medical school. Choosing endocrinology as my clinical career was the natural way forward.

Q: How are you getting involved with SfE BES 2017?

R: At this year’s conference I will be contributing to the public engagement event, where I will be speed-networking with local teenagers to promote science and a career in endocrinology. I will also be presenting my research as an oral communication in the Bone, Calcium and Neoplasia session, as well as supporting my PhD student who is also delivering her first presentation at SfE BES.

L: At SfE BES 2017 I will be speaking about clinical academic opportunities in endocrinology, and chairing the Early Career symposium on alternative career pathways for endocrine scientists and clinicians, as well as another session on endocrinology and behaviour.

Q: What brings you to SfE BES 2017? Any particular sessions you are looking forward to?

R: I have attended this event regularly since 2006, when I began my PhD. In all that time, whilst I immensely enjoyed the science, the social and networking opportunities at the conference are always fantastic.  I am really interested in how altered steroid metabolism contributes to inflammatory bone loss, and therefore sessions featuring eminent speakers, such as Jan Tuckermann and Eugene McCloskey, on the actions of glucocorticoid on bone, are of particular interest to me. I would strongly recommend everyone to attend the plenary sessions – these are great opportunities to see the progression of truly innovative research within endocrinology.

L: This is my fifth time at SfE BES, and I would say my favourite elements are the opportunities to be exposed to a great mix of cutting-edge science and clinical talk. I’m especially looking forward to Marian Joëls’ plenary talk on the action of corticosteroids in the brain. As a clinical trainee, I find the ‘How do I…’ sessions particularly useful – they are practical and focus on questions which crop up in routine endocrine practice, rather than rare conditions that trainees may not often encounter. For example, Andrew Toogood’s session back in 2015, on managing men who take anabolic steroids, included useful tips which I’ve found helpful in my practice.

Q: What are your future plans for your work and career?

R: I wish to combine the expertise I have developed in murine models and working with patient biopsies to develop novel therapeutic approaches for preventing complications, such as muscle wasting and systemic bone loss in chronic inflammatory disease. Within the next three years I intend to apply for a Senior Fellowship.

L: In the long-term, I’m aiming to become a clinician scientist, and I’d like my work to combine nuclear hormone research with clinical endocrinology.

Q: Who do you most admire professionally, and why?

R: I most admire Professor Georg Schett. He is a world-leading rheumatologist, investigating the pathogenesis of cartilage and bone destruction in inflammatory diseases that have shaped much of the field I currently work in.

L: For my intercalated BSc project, I had the opportunity to go to the Netherlands, and spend time with Ron de Kloet’s group in Leiden. My supervisor there, Menno Kruk, was an inspiration. He’d devoted his career to understanding the neurobiology of aggression, and his passion for the field was infectious.

Q: What do you think will be the next major breakthrough in your field?

R: Understanding how local pre-receptor steroid metabolism contributes to the dysregulation of adaptive immunity and chronic inflammatory disease.

L: In circadian biology, there’s enormous potential for the application of recent research findings to clinical practice. The idea that we could use drugs, vaccines, and other interventions more intelligently, simply by administering them at the right time of day, is very exciting.

Q: Any words of wisdom fot those starting out in your field?

R: Attend SfE BES, take an interest in any of the talks taking place at the conference, and when a speaker really inspires you, take the time to speak with them after their session.

L: Don’t be afraid to approach people and ask for help or advice, even if they hold eminent positions and you’ve never met them before! I’ve found that if you’re keen and have ambition, most people are only too pleased to help.

Both Dr Hardy and Dr Hunter will be presenting at SfE BES 2017, 6-8 November, in Harrogate.  Dr Hardy’s talk ‘Glucocorticoids activation by 11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1 protects against inflammatory bone loss in a murine model of chronic inflammation’ will take place on Wednesday 8 November, 16.15-16.45. Dr Hunter’s ‘Clinical academic opportunities in Endocrinology’ will be on Monday 6 November, 12.45-13.00.

Find more details about all sessions in the scientific programme, and discover more Early Career activities at SfE BES 2017 on their dedicated event webpage.

Meet the Endocrinologist: Professor Julia Buckingham

Meet Professor Julia Buckingham, Vice-Chancellor and President of Brunel University London and 2017 Society for Endocrinology Jubilee Medal winner. Professor Buckingham’s work focuses on the mechanisms controlling the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) axis. Her outstanding work together with her contribution to the Society, of which she was President from 2009 to 2012, has led to her being awarded this medal, to be presented the annual conference, SfE BES 2017, in Harrogate, 6-8 November 2017. In this interview, Professor Buckingham tells us about her journey in endocrinology.

Q: Can you tell us more about your career path and research interests? 

I developed my passion for endocrinology as an undergraduate student at Sheffield University, where I was inspired by my amazing teachers.  My love for pharmacology, triggered by a short spell in the pharmaceutical industry, came later, before I started my PhD.  Since then I have worked in both endocrinology and pharmacology and have remained firmly wedded to academia. Throughout my career I have combined research and education, and I passionately believe that the two are symbiotic. In fact, I get very cross with people who are ‘too posh to teach’ – we all have a responsibility for the next generation, just as previous generations did for us.  I have had enormous fun over the years working with my research group (and contributing a little bit, I hope!) to our knowledge and understanding of the HPA axis.  I have also been privileged to work with the broader academic community – research funders, publishers, learned societies, particularly the Society for Endocrinology.  Looking back on my career, I think I have probably always been interested in leadership roles, although I didn’t think about it in those terms.  My previous role as Pro-Rector for Education at Imperial College London opened my eyes to the broader issues facing higher education in the UK and internationally, and that led to my current role as Vice-Chancellor of Brunel University London.

Q: What specifically are you presenting at your Jubilee Medal Lecture at SfE BES 2017?

At the conference I will be talking about the complex relationship between the host-defence system and the HPA axis. I will specifically focus on the role of a family of receptors, which were first identified as targets for formylated bacterial peptides, and which contribute to the pathological response to infection.

Q:  What are you particularly looking forward to at SfE BES 2017?

The programme is fantastic as always, and it is difficult to choose.  I always try to go to the plenary lectures and I am particularly looking forward to brushing up my knowledge of POMC processing.

However, the most interesting insights you can get at these events often come from talking to people who are presenting posters, so I would urge everyone to spend time doing that.

Finally, I look forward to catching up with old friends and colleagues, of course.

Q: What has been your career highlight so far?

My research team would say it is seeing new data – and they would go to great lengths to wind me up by telling me they’re not sure how an experiment has gone because they haven’t worked the results out yet! But if you ask me, the greatest highlights are always when seeing someone in my team do well and progress to the next stage of their career, and as Vice-Chancellor, seeing the pride and joy of parents from across the globe when their sons and daughters collect their degrees at graduation.

Q: What are your future plans for your work and career?

I am very focused on my work at Brunel at the moment and I haven’t given much thought as to what comes next.  Theoretically it should be retirement, but I can’t imagine that – when my time at Brunel comes to an end I shall be looking to do something else!

Q: Who do you most admire professionally?

That’s a very difficult question as I have met so many hugely impressive people in different walks of life – it would be unfair to pick one.

Q: Any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists out there?

Follow your passions, keep an open mind and don’t let a hypercritical referee’s report get you down.

Q: What do you think will be the next major breakthrough in your field?

If I knew the answer to that I would be working on it now!


You can attend Professor Buckingham’s lecture, ‘Bacteria, steroids and formyl peptide receptors – more twists to the inflammatory response’, at SfE BES 2017 on Wednesday 8 November, 16.15-16.45. See more details in the scientific programme.

Meet the Endocrinologist: Interview with Prof David Hodson

Meet Professor David Hodson, Society for Endocrinology Starling Medal winner for 2017. Prof Hodson is based at the University of Birmingham, where his work investigates how failure of pancreatic beta cell function contributes to type-2 diabetes. He is particularly interested in using multidisciplinary and innovative approaches to answer these research questions, which has earned him this award, to be presented the annual conference, SfE BES 2017, in Harrogate, 6-8 November 2017. Learn more about his endocrine journey in this exclusive interview.

Q:  Tell us a little about your career so far and how you ended up in Birmingham

I originally trained as a Veterinary Surgeon at the University of Bristol, where I studied for a PhD in reproductive neuroendocrinology. Tempted by warmer climes, I then migrated to the South of France to join Patrice Mollard’s lab at the CNRS Montpellier, France. This was an exciting time when Patrice had just discovered pituitary networks, and I was lucky enough to be involved in some of the seminal work that followed. This period cemented my passion for microscopy and method development. I then took up a post as a Non-Clinical Lecturer at Imperial College London in Guy Rutter’s Section, applying optical approaches to the study of islet biology and generally learning how to survive in academia. I moved to the University of Birmingham 18 months ago through their Birmingham Fellows Scheme, convinced that the availability of world-class imaging/metabolomics and abundance of young talent would help me to push my research to the next level. Now a Professorial Research Fellow, I am tasked with the exciting role of expanding diabetes research, as well as further developing our imaging capability. This despite my initial reservations about the city following the BAFTA award-winning “Peaky Blinders”!

 Q: What more specifically are you presenting at your Medal Lecture at SfE BES 2017?

It is becoming increasingly clear that, rather like society, beta cells are not equal. In fact, a small number of beta cells may be responsible for driving insulin release, as well as proliferation/renewal, similar to how just a few individuals own most of the world’s wealth. Or alternatively, how you are only ever six people away from knowing Kevin Bacon (of “Tremors” or “Footloose” fame). This is a really hot topic that challenges our understanding of how beta cells may fail (or respond to treatment) during type 2 diabetes. Therefore, I’ll talk about the recent questions that have arisen in terms of beta cell diversity, the tools we have developed to try and understand this and how this has changed our viewpoint of beta cell function under normal and diabetic conditions. There will be lots of colour, movies and practically no text.

Q: What are you particularly looking forward to at SfE BES 2017?

 My first SfE BES conference was last year and I’m a convert! It will be great to see how endocrinology is progressing in the UK and to catch up with colleagues whilst discussing research in a friendly, informal and supportive environment. In particular, I am looking forward to the “Tissue Engineering for Regenerative Medicine in Endocrinology” symposium. This holds promise not only for diabetes treatment, but also for many endocrine disorders. I’m also looking forward to the social programme. I’d be lying if I said that food and alcohol didn’t play an important role in any conference attendance!

Q: What has been your career highlight so far?

To be honest, I’m relatively new to this and the lab has been working across so many disciplines/topics that it’s difficult to pinpoint a particular highlight. I’m very appreciative that I’ve got excellent collaborators and we are just pleased to be involved in any output that falls under the ‘team science’ banner. Having said that, getting to see Wrestlemania 33 at the same time as ENDO 2017 this year in Florida has to be pretty good, right? Does this count as a career highlight?

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges in your particular research area right now?

Our biggest challenge remains how to translate our basic findings on beta cell function from the bench to the bedside. We are amassing detailed knowledge regarding the mechanisms underlying insulin secretion, especially in the ‘omics era, but need to strive to harness this for therapeutic potential. On the flip side, lack of understanding about basic mechanisms will hold back progress on all fronts, so we should not make this the only criteria for our research.

Q: What are your future plans for your work & career?

Honestly, I haven’t really thought that far ahead. I’m content following up the avenues created by current research and just having fun doing what we’re doing. Maybe become a Vice-Chancellor? The pension seems decent.

Q: Who do you most admire professionally?

I have to admit that I most admire my postdocs, students and technicians. The fact that they have chosen to research diabetes with relatively little reward and in tough academic times really speaks volumes about their motivation and personalities. They do it because they love to do it. I am lucky to have such good people.

Q: Any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists out there?

Endocrinology is bound by shared mechanisms and concepts. Therefore, as a basic or clinical researcher, don’t be afraid to apply thinking from one field to another field, as well as take risks with the research. The outcome and impact can be quite dramatic compared to the high-throughput, predictable science that the funding climate seems to encourage. If someone asks you what is the point of doing this, then it’s generally a positive thing!

Q: What do you think will be the next major breakthrough in your field?

There is a realisation that current drugs are difficult to improve upon. Certainly, pharma pipelines, profits and innovation are all shrinking as the list of FDA requirements rightly grows (e.g. concerning cardiovascular safety margins). Therefore, directed or personalised treatment may represent the next breakthrough in the field, for example through production of unimolecular agonists where a few licensed drugs are ‘bolted’ together or matching patient genotype to drug efficacy.

You can hear Prof Hodson’s Society for Endocrinology Starling Medal lecture, “Next generation tools to understand endocrine function in health and disease” on Monday 6 November, 18:00-18:30, and see the full scientific programme for SfE BES 2017.


Meet the Endocrinologists: Miriam Asia & Andrea Mason

Miriam Asia (right) and Andrea Mason (left), Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) in endocrinology at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham (QEHB) tell us about their work in endocrine nursing and what they are looking forward to at SfE BES 2017, 6-8 November in Harrogate.

Q: Tell us a little about yourself and where you work

Miriam: As an endocrine specialist nurse, I run the adrenal nurse-led clinic, post-traumatic brain injury endocrine screening clinic and support the young adult clinic. I have also completed the Non-Medical Prescribing course at Masters Level and I am planning to start a masters in endocrinology.

Andrea: I currently look after three nurse-led clinics; late effects of cancer treatment (transition clinic from children’s to adult services), pituitary and a new clinic that monitors patients who have developed immune-related adverse events in response to immune check-point inhibitor treatment. I have a particular interest in the quality of life issues surrounding endocrine conditions.

 Q: What inspired you to work in endocrinology?

Miriam: I only knew about endocrinology through nursing textbooks but now, being able to see endocrine patients, reviewing them in clinic and working with them through their endocrine journey makes me realise even more how fascinating and exciting endocrinology is. Especially when I see the difference it makes to our patients during and following treatment.

Andrea: During my nurse training I developed a keen interest in cancer nursing and worked in oncology for many years until an opportunity for me to branch out into endocrinology as a Clinical Nurse Specialist arose. This position was to cover maternity leave and I knew little about endocrinology, so I had to learn on the job quickly! During my first week, I attended the Society’s Endocrine Nurse Update and was totally blown away by the specialty. The journey had started; I spent evenings studying after work trying to get to grips with the basics.

 Q: What are you looking forward to at SfE BES 2017?

Miriam: As well as the plenaries and nurses’ sessions, I am also looking forward to the ‘Meet the Expert’ and ‘How Do I…’ sessions, especially those relevant to my clinical practice.

Andrea: This is my second SfE BES and I am looking forward to the nurses’ sessions, particularly those on opiate-induced endocrinopathy, and development of endocrinopathy following metastatic melanoma treatment. I also enjoy meeting and networking with other endocrine nurses.

Q: What are your career highlights so far?

Miriam: I recently completed a sky dive (see photo right), with some of my CNS colleagues, in support of our QEHB charity for the Young Adult Clinic!

Andrea: Highlights in my nursing career, include working as an Endocrine Nurse Specialist and successfully completing the Non-Medical Prescribing course at Masters Level.

Q: Who do you most admire professionally and why?

Miriam: My endocrine colleagues – nurses and doctors – at QEHB who work with such competence and dedication to look after our endocrine patients

Andrea: I have had an inspiring and passionate Endocrine Lead Nurse to guide me throughout the last five years and support my development. I have also had the support and patience from a caring team of endocrinologists.

Q: What advice would you give to someone starting out in endocrine nursing?

Miriam: Although endocrine nursing is a challenging specialist role that requires a lot of reading and studying, it is rewarding in the end.

Andrea: It does take time to understand the speciality and additional studying is required but when you understand the basics of the endocrine system, it is all very logical. I would say to any nurse…. go for it!

Q: What are your future career aspirations?

Miriam: To complete my masters in endocrinology and become more confident and competent in dealing with complex endocrine cases as a result. I also hope to see more nurse consultants and nurse led clinics being set up.

Andrea: My future plans are to remain in my current position and I am looking to complete a master’s degree in endocrinology.

Don’t miss the dedicated Nurses’ Lounge at SfE BES 2017, giving nurses the opportunity to meet and network in their own space. This is especially beneficial when you are travelling on your own, or if you are a first-time attendee, as there is nearly always somebody there to chat to. At designated break times there is at least one member of the Nurse Committee on hand for you to get to know.

Follow the links to find out more about SfE BES 2017, view the scientific program and register online.