Meet the Endocrinologist: Meet Dr Matthew Simmonds a Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Science at the University of Lincoln. His research is focused on the genetics of pancreatic transplant function and he will be presenting at the Early Career session at SfE BES 2018, 19-21 November in Glasgow. In our latest interview, he tells us more about his work and what he is looking forward to at the SfE BES 2018 conference.
Can you tell us a little about your current position and research?
I am a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lincoln where I have been now for just over two years. My research career has revolved around trying to identify genetic contributors to a series of autoimmune endocrine diseases including autoimmune thyroid disease and type-1 diabetes. My current research is specifically focused on looking at genetic predictors of long-term pancreas transplant function in people with severe type 1 diabetes.
What inspired you in to this field?
The immune system is amazing and without it we would never have survived and evolved on this earth. What I find so interesting about the autoimmune endocrine diseases is how the immune system, which is meant to protect us, actually starts to attack parts of the body leading to changes in how the endocrine system works. I am passionate about understanding how disease pathways are triggered/progress and how we can use these insights to inform better treatments for people with these different conditions.
What do you think are the biggest challenges in your field of research?
I think the major challenge within pancreas transplantation is both the number of donor organs available for transplantation into people with severe type-1 diabetes and trying to ensure that the transplanted organ remains functional throughout the recipient’s life to ensure the benefits these transplants provide, of retuning insulin production and halting/reversing secondary diabetes related complication in that person, remain for as long as possible.
What do you think will be the next major breakthrough in your field?
I think both the advances being made in using induced pluripotent stem cells, combined with gene editing, to create new beta cells, will provide unparalleled new opportunities for transplantation purposes. Combined with the decreased costs around genome and other proteomic screening for patients and our increased understanding of how genetic variation impact upon autoimmunity and transplant success this will give us new understanding of disease progression and provide better individual tailoring of therapeutics.
What will you be doing at SfE BES 2018 in Glasgow?
Well as you have asked – nothing like a bit of shameless plugging – I will be doing a talk on the Tuesday as part of the Early Careers session ‘Navigating the Academic Pathway’. My talk is entitled ‘The lectureship route’ where I will be providing some insights into this career pathway, the challenges and benefits of this route and some tips on how to be get such a position.
What are you looking forward to at this year’s conference?
I think as an early career researcher I loved going to conferences to be able to present my work and network with others working in the field – which is the same reason I enjoy attending conferences to this day. Whilst there are lots of fantastic talks, plenaries and other sessions throughout the conference with something to suit everyone’s research interests, one thing I would suggest to early career researchers is to take time to speak to other early career researchers at the poster sessions and after their talks. You would be surprised how much you have in common with other researchers and how random conversations at conferences can lead to new collaborations and possibly job offers in the future.
Who do you most admire and why?
I have been really lucky to have worked with some of the most amazing researchers in diabetes and endocrinology throughout my career so far – both in the centres I have worked and through numerous collaborations. I have been very lucky to have some amazing mentors throughout the years, and think that whatever stage in your career you are at it is important to keep listening, learning and being inspired by researchers at every level.
What words of wisdom do you have for someone starting out in research?
These type of questions always make me feel old. Joking aside, I think the best advice I can give to any early career researcher is to think about where you want your career to go but don’t be so rigid in your approach that you may miss out on some unexpected opportunities that come your way. Also listen to your gut feeling about career decisions. Whilst is it perfectly normal to be scared to take on new challenges be it new techniques, moving into different project areas or new jobs, sometimes you instantly know if something is a good or a bad move. From my own experience I have learnt that sometimes saying no to something that is not right for you is as important as the opportunities you say yes to.
You can hear Dr Simmonds presentation, “The lectureship route” on Tuesday 20 November, as part of the Early Career: Navigating the Academic Pathway session at 16:00-17:30. Find out more about the scientific programme for SfE BES 2018.