Professor Adrian Clark is an Honorary Professor of Endocrinology at Bart’s & the London School of Medicine & Dentistry, and Chair of Bioscientifica. He enjoyed a varied academic career in endocrinology, from studying at Bart’s Medical College to becoming Head of the Academic Department of Endocrinology at Bart’s. He is the current editor-in-chief for Endocrine Connections. In our interview he discusses his academic career, the importance of resilience in research, and tells us what we can expect from his SfE BES 2022 lecture.
Tell us about your career so far
I trained in medicine and biochemistry at Bart’s Medical College, and following various junior clinical training positions, took up a research position with Harry Keen at at Guy’s Hospital Medical School before moving to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, USA to work on cloning the epidermal growth factor (EGF) receptor with Ira Pastan. I subsequently moved to Kevin Catt’s lab at NIH, working on cloning the angiotensin receptor, before returning to London to Mike Besser’s Department of Endocrinology at Bart’s to establish the Centre for Molecular Endocrinology with Medical Research Council support. I later became Head of the Academic Department of Endocrinology on Mike’s retirement, and Deputy Director of the William Harvey Research Institute. I took on the post of Dean of Research at St George’s University of London in 2012 before retiring from full time work in 2015. Since then I have maintained my research involvement at Bart’s and been Chair of Bioscientifica since 2017. I was editor-in-chief of the Journal of Endocrinology and Journal of Molecular Endocrinology for 6 years, and now I’m editor-in-chief of Endocrine Connections.
What attracted you to endocrinology?
Endocrinology provided ‘precision medicine’ decades before the term was even invented. It was the ability to apply objective data to the diagnosis and management of human disease in contrast to all other medical specialties at the end of the last century that was perhaps the main attraction. In addition, the opportunity to understand disease processes as aberrations of biology really brought science and medicine together in a manner unequalled at that time, which appealed to the basic scientist in me.
Who has inspired you most in your career?
This is impossible to answer. I have worked with, and been taught by, many great endocrinologists over the years – Mike Besser – whose teaching sessions as a medical student were legendary, Lesley Rees, Steve Bloom, Harry Keen and Kevin Catt, to name a few. My greatest “inspiration” however was at a University of Exeter open day as a seven year old when I visited the biology department. I can still remember my amazement at the many exhibits there, such as viewing living protozoa under the microscope. My parents had to drag me away.
What are you most proud of academically?
In research, pursuing the idea that the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) receptor required an adrenal co-factor when precedents were lacking, and for eventually discovering this co-factor through a rather unexpected route. Perhaps a greater achievement, though, is maintaining a research environment that trained many outstanding researchers and leaders in endocrinology in this country and abroad!
What do you think are the biggest challenges in your field?
Research funding, and attracting and supporting talent. Research in endocrinology understandably lacks the mass appeal of cancer, brain or cardiovascular research. Arguably, this means that funded endocrine research has to be of greater quality, but it also means that endocrinology can be a tough and discouraging place to establish a career at the post-doctoral and junior faculty level. Added to this is also the probability that the attractions of studying and working in the UK will be significantly reduced since Brexit, depriving us of the wealth of European talent from which our research has undoubtedly benefitted in the past.
Where do you see the next breakthrough happening in your field?
I think that with the greater understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying signalling we are on the brink of development of really sophisticated tools that could be used to manipulate the pituitary-adrenal axis in patients.
Can you tell us about your SfE BES 2022 lecture?
I aim to summarise about three decades of work which led to the discovery and understanding of the unique role of the melanocortin receptor accessory proteins (MRAPs) and to highlight a couple of underexplored aspects of their role in the control of adrenal function.
Do you have any words of wisdom for future endocrinologists?
Resilience, when papers and grant applications are rejected, it is an essential requirement for success. Ask questions – those you fear are silly questions are often the most revealing. Find and keep a mentor you trust. Keep abreast of developments in other areas – they sometimes provide you with remarkable insights and even real “eureka” moments.
You can attend Professor Adrian Clark’s Jubilee Medal Lecture “The MRAP Files” on Tuesday 15 November from 8:30 – 9am.
Take a look at the full scientific programme for SfE BES 2022.