Kevin Murphy is Professor of Endocrinology & Metabolism at Imperial College London and a convenor of the Society’s Metabolic and Obesity Endocrine Network. His research focuses on the role of the hypothalamus in the control of energy homeostasis and reproduction, and in this interview he tells us more about his research and career.
What inspired you into endocrine research?
I moved to London with a BSc in Zoology and Physiology, and for three months, applied for every job in London that needed a BSc but no experience. I was lucky enough to have an argument about what killed off the dinosaurs with an interviewer in the Endocrinology Unit at Imperial College that we both enjoyed, and was given a technicians job. Over the following year, I realised that I was really interested in how hormones influenced behaviour, especially feeding behaviour. And it’s been downhill ever since…
Tell us a little more about your current research
I’m interested in how the gut senses macronutrients, and in particular protein, to regulate appetite and metabolism. I’m excited about using approaches such as metabolomics to investigate how foods are detected to change food intake – for example, comprehensively measuring the changes in the thousands of different metabolites produced in the gut following digestion of a particular food, and investigating how they might drive gut hormone release.
What do you think will be the next big or important advances in metabolic research?
The use of genome-wide association studies to identify and establish novel causes of obesity have really advanced the field. Linking big genetic data to the physiological effects of the genes will be important to further advance the field.
The explosion of information on the role of the microbiome in energy homeostasis and metabolism is also having a great impact, as are new tools for manipulating endocrine cell function. I think establishing reliable pharmaco- and optogenetic method equivalents for endocrine cells will be a big breakthrough in metabolic research.
What do you think are the biggest challenges faced by academic science?
Convincing an increasingly disillusioned public that there might be an objective truth behind particular issues is a big challenge for all scientists.
For newcomers to scientific research, I think it is hard to establish a career. To get a PhD studentship these days, you need to have been polishing your CV from the age of 13. And then there aren’t a lot of academic jobs to go for when you are a post-doc.
For older researchers, funding and juggling different aspects of their job makes it difficult to maintain a career over the long term.
What do you enjoy about being a Network convenor?
It’s nice to hear from other Network members at the meetings, and to maintain the profile of obesity and metabolism at the annual SfE BES conference.
Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists?
I’m not sure how wise they are…but think about what evidence you have on your CV to show you can do certain things (attract funding, teach, manage a project) and try to get some experience if you don’t have any. Get a feel for how the science funding system works, as this is really helpful later in your career. Make sure you enjoy the work, otherwise there are lots of other fulfilling careers you could probably pursue with less effort. Join the Society for Endocrinology…
The Endocrine Networks are platforms for knowledge exchange and collaboration amongst basic and clinical researchers, clinical endocrinologists and endocrine nurses. The Networks enable members to discuss and find solutions to challenges within their specialist field.