Professor David Ray, from the University of Oxford, is the 2020 winner of our Society for Endocrinology Medal. His research focuses on circadian rhythms, nuclear receptors and metabolism, and he will be giving his Medal Lecture during SfE BES Online 2020 on Friday 20 November. Read this interview to find out more about his research ahead of the conference.
Tell us about your current position and research
I have been interested in nuclear receptors in health and disease since working on my PhD in the early 90s. As all endocrinologists learn about the importance of time of day in understanding endocrine gland function, it seemed natural to take an interest in the circadian clock. Indeed, one of my early attempts to do research came in Liverpool when studying circadian function in chronic fatigue syndrome. As I established my research group in Manchester, I started working with Andrew Loudon, one of the major players in circadian and circannual timing mechanisms. At the same time, the role of my favourite receptor, the glucocorticoid receptor, in the regulation of the circadian clock was becoming clear, so we wanted to focus our research on this. In 1998, I moved to University of Oxford as Professor of Endocrinology, where I am continuing to develop these research themes, as well as building on new opportunities to do more work with patients and volunteers.
Can you tell us about your career path and what you enjoy most about your work?
I trained in medicine in Manchester, and then in endocrinology in the North West of England. I did my PhD in Manchester, and post doc at the University of California, Los Angeles.
I hugely enjoy discovering new things and talking about latest findings from the lab, trying to figure out what they mean and publishing the findings. I think the discussions with my research group and the interactions with other colleagues in the field are the best parts of my professional life. I take great pride in working with some of the amazing, bright, committed young scientists who join the group to make their own discoveries. I love seeing them develop, and surprise me!
What inspired you to choose endocrinology as a career?
I was drawn to endocrinology when I worked with David Anderson in Salford as an SHO. It seemed brimming with excitement, new discoveries, and powerful approaches to improve the lives of patients.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your research?
It’s been hard, but my group has been amazing. We have switched a lot of effort to computational analysis and to entirely in silico projects, in order to maintain research momentum. We have also taken the chance to complete writing up a number of papers!
What you will be presenting during your lecture at SfE BES online 2020?
So, I don’t want to spoil the main event! I will discuss the state of the art in circadian biology and will present new work from our group, showing how the circadian clock and its output pathways regulate inflammation and energy metabolism. We have two new projects to show, one centred on the macrophage, and other on the liver.
What do you think about the move to virtual meetings?
Well, we have to do something to maintain momentum and to keep us all connected. Science is not a solitary pursuit. Virtual meetings have the advantage that they are cheap to attend and there is no barrier to colleagues with caring responsibilities. However, I do miss the chance to talk through the latest science with colleagues face to face.
What do you think are the biggest challenges in your field?
I think we face a major challenge maintaining the scientific infrastructure and funding for truly international science. We have made huge progress and the tools now at our disposal are awesome, but I think we as a community and the country face tough choices about our next steps. I don’t see that debate happening, but we are all aware that decisions are being made which will impact on how we can function in the future.
What do you think will be the next major breakthrough in your field?
I think the effective translation of the amazing science relating to the circadian clock, its components, and role in physiology to benefit human populations is lagging. I think clock-acting compounds in the clinic and embedding clock logic in healthcare will be transformative.
Any words of advice for aspiring endocrinologists?
You can hear Professor David Ray’s Medal Lecture “Circadian control of inflammation and metabolism” on Friday 20 November at 15:50 GMT+1. If you haven’t already, register for SfE BES Online now!