Embracing the diversity of endocrinology: an interview with Dr Alexander Comninos

Dr Alexander Comninos is a consultant in endocrinology and diabetes and honorary clinical senior lecturer at Imperial College London. His research interests are in reproductive endocrinology and metabolic bone disease and he has presented internationally, winning several prestigious prizes including the Society’s Early Career and Clinical Endocrinology Trust Prizes. Alex currently sits on the Society’s Science Committee and is a previous Leadership and Development Awards Programme Awardee. Read our interview with him to find out about his career, the current challenges in his field, and how he thinks endocrinology will change in the future.

*A late night collaborative meeting at a Kebab House during SfE BES 2015

Tell us about your current position

I feel very fortunate as my current role combines clinical work, research and teaching. One day I may be running our endocrine bone clinic, the next day I could be on call for acute medicine, or analysing data and finishing a research paper, lecturing and tutoring undergraduates, or meeting my PhD students. I really enjoy the fact that each day is different and endocrinology is the theme through most of it, with so many opportunities to combine clinical and academic work.

I love endocrinology because it encompasses the whole body system and has so many possibilities for research to improve patient care.

What are you proudest of in your career so far?

Looking back on my career so far, I am so happy that I made it through all the harder times in medicine and academia. Long runs of night-shifts and previous unsuccessful grant applications certainly tested my perseverance but made me stronger!

What do you think are the biggest challenges in endocrinology right now?

With increasing patient use of social media and the internet in general sometimes misinforming patients, we have to ensure that we provide clear and accurate information to patients and address their concerns. In addition, although we are hopefully emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, an element of remote medicine is clearly here to stay. With patient compliance, subtle symptoms and blood tests so integral to endocrinology, we need to find new ways to monitor these in a remote medicine environment.

How do you think your field of research will change in the future

Genetics is such a rapidly developing field. I suspect we will be routinely performing full cheap gene sequencing and using this information to guide management at an individual level.

In the future I think we will see the increasing incorporation of genetics to guide individualised treatment.

What is it like being involved with the Society for Endocrinology?

We are lucky to have such a well-run society. I currently sit on the Science Committee which is an absolute pleasure. Interacting with other basic and clinical endocrinologists, each with different opinions and interests is really fascinating and constantly thought-provoking. I would like to see the Society push on with in-person meetings, when safe to do so, as I feel this is so important for our morale on an individual as well as a collective basis.

Who are your most inspirational endocrinologists?

Like many others, Professor Karim Meeran is a large part of why I chose endocrinology, and Professor Waljit Dhillo is the inspiration behind my academic pursuits. Their dedication to trainee development, super approachable nature, calmness and sense of what is best, is really incredible and I am sure numerous trainees would agree. I also have to say that Dr Cox at St Mary’s has been a real clinical inspiration for me. I was his house-officer many years ago, and now to sit next door as a consultant colleague always makes me smile. His incredible experience, knowledge and deep interest in endocrine physiology have certainly helped shape my early consultant years, and we have had many enthralling clinical discussions!

Any words of wisdom for aspiring researchers in endocrinology?

It is a wonderful specialty, full of surprises and opportunities. Be inquisitive constantly, question things to understand concepts and remember the journey is lifelong.



The Society for Endocrinology is 75 years old in 2021. As part of our celebrations, we are collecting members’ opinions, with a focus towards the future – after a particularly hard year for us all!

We are keen to reflect the diversity and breadth of our discipline by hearing from members across all backgrounds, career stages, career types and geographical locations, to get a true flavour of the range of views, needs and challenges faced by our Society members.

Would you like to get involved and share your views? Simply complete this short questionnaire or send your comments to media@endocrinology.org.

Embracing the diversity of endocrinology: an interview with Dr Gareth Nye

Dr Gareth Nye is a lecturer in anatomy and physiology at the University of Chester. His main research interests are maternal and foetal health. In our interview, he tells us about his career so far, his research and how he thinks his field will develop in the future.

Tell us a bit about your current position

My recent research has been focused on improving outcomes for both mum and baby before, during and after pregnancy. More specifically I’ve been researching placental causes of foetal growth restriction, whilst also looking into the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on maternity care.

I love endocrinology because it impacts every aspect of human health and disease

The most enjoyable aspect of my role as a lecturer is getting engagement from the students. When a student is really exploring a topic and that enthusiasm comes out in lectures or otherwise, it’s such a great feeling. With my research being in a field where you can make such a huge difference is also so rewarding. There’s still so much we don’t fully understand around pregnancy, so there is always new areas to look into.

What are you proudest of in your career so far?

There are many career moments that I’m proud of, for a wide range of reasons. Being nominated for “most inspirational lecturer” from students at the University of Chester is an achievement I’m proud of, for both personal and professional reasons.

Additionally, I’m particularly proud of our review of placental oxygenation in the Journal of Physiology and finally, speaking at the International Federation of Placenta Associations conference in Tokyo was an amazing experience!

What do you think are the biggest challenges in your field of research right now?

I think there are multiple challenges within maternal and foetal health and pregnancy research. If I had to name three major themes they would be

  • Ensuring every baby is delivered healthy and that every mum remains healthy, during and after the pregnancy. Finding novel interventions to improve foetal outcomes in utero, without the need for early delivery and shining a spotlight on the physical and mental changes that pregnancy has on the mother’s body, both during and after the pregnancy itself
  • Fully understanding the impact the maternal environment has on foetal lifelong outcomes – this involves the discussion around Developmental Origins of Health and Disease
  • Exploring the maternal/foetal interface to improve outcomes for the baby – this includes the placenta, breastmilk and circumstances following birth

Can you explain more about how you think your field of research will change in the future?

In the future we will challenge the current understanding around pregnancy and early childhood. Not enough is known yet and it's limiting our ability to intervene productively.

As pregnancy research, particularly in humans, is challenging for a number of reasons I can see the field collaborating more with other disciplines, even though not necessarily involved in medicine. For example, I have recent research papers with mathematicians, engineers and physicists, who can bring their knowledge and expertise to fill in gaps in our biological knowledge. Additionally, with the improvement of imaging techniques, we can slowly begin to understand the important microanatomy of the placenta and uterus to see if/how we can improve pregnancy outcomes. Without thinking of our research fields as one slice in a huge pie, we can never make true advances and so collaborating with different areas is key. Particularly as everything can be influenced by the body’s endocrinology!

What is it like being a Society for Endocrinology member?

I have to say, since joining this society I have felt so welcomed into a community. I’ve been given opportunities that have never been presented to me before from other societies. The Society on the whole seems to actively push and support their more junior members.

Unfortunately, I’ve not had the chance to attend any Society events in person yet but hopefully I will get the opportunity to attend soon!

Who is your most inspirational scientist?
Again, speaking personally, the most inspirational endocrinologist to me is Frederick Banting, the discoverer of insulin. This is because my 4 year old daughter has type 1 diabetes and without insulin, she wouldn’t be with us anymore! I think a lot of people have Banting’s discovery to thank!

John Hunter always sticks out as someone who should be more famous than he is. He truly is one of the greatest anatomists of our time, discovering much of what we know now around anatomy and physiology all without a formal school education. Of interest to my work – he was the first to note that maternal and foetal blood supplies are separate during pregnancy

Any words of wisdom for aspiring researchers in endocrinology?

Speaking from experience, something I like to tell my students is not to stick to your own little bubble. Everything in medicine and biology is connected in one way or another and keeping an open mind to your research can allow you to progress, where you may not have otherwise. Due to this, don’t be afraid to switch “topics” because you can always find common themes.

Finally, make sure you enjoy what you do! I’ve been lucky to work in some amazing areas, with amazing people but what’s really helped is enjoying my work!



The Society for Endocrinology is 75 years old in 2021. As part of our celebrations, we are collecting members’ opinions, with a focus towards the future – after a particularly hard year for us all!

We are keen to reflect the diversity and breadth of our discipline by hearing from members across all backgrounds, career stages, career types and geographical locations, to get a true flavour of the range of views, needs and challenges faced by our Society members.

Would you like to get involved and share your views? Simply complete this short questionnaire or send your comments to media@endocrinology.org.

Embracing the diversity of endocrinology: an interview with Professor Rachel Crowley

Professor Rachel Crowley is a consultant endocrinologist at St Vincent’s University Hospital Dublin and a Clinical Professor at University College Dublin in Ireland. In our interview, she tells us about her career, shares her thoughts on the future of endocrinology and considers the possible improvements patient care.

Tell us a bit about your current position

My job is a mix of clinical work, research and teaching. Ours is a busy centre for neuroendocrine tumours and adrenal pathology, and I run the rare bone disease service which is a national Orphanet clinic. I also cover pituitary, gonadal, thyroid and general endocrine clinics, inpatient diabetes and endocrinology consults and general internal medicine. I love endocrinology because for each patient I assess and reason from scratch, it’s never boring.

What are you proudest of in your career so far?

I love endocrinology because for each patient I assess and reason from scratch, it’s never boring.

I’m proud of how the trainees I have worked with on my team have progressed in their own careers and how they have kept in contact. The Christmas cards, emails and WhatsApp messages from around the world are lovely to receive. I gave a talk at virtual ENDO this year and a trainee in Canada realised I would be getting a train home late from work after the panel discussion – she messaged me to be sure I got home safely! These personal connections make a big difference.

How much has your work changed since you started your career?

The general internal medicine commitment has increased, even in the relatively short time since I have been a consultant. The developments in endocrine genetics and in adrenal medicine have happened quickly in the last 10 years so it can be challenging to keep our practice up to the standards we expect of ourselves. The increased contact with patient advocacy groups is very welcome and rewarding – that was something that we didn’t learn about as undergraduates or have much exposure to as trainees.

The more access we have to genomics and proteomics, the more I think we’ll be able to deliver an individual treatment plan for the patient sitting in front of us – I think that’s really attractive to patients and satisfying for us in our own practice.

What do you think have been the major milestones in clinical practice during your career?

There is far more insight into the impact of genetic profiling on the clinical care plan for individual patients. Immunotherapy has had a huge impact on clinical oncology but has generated a whole new cohort of patients for us as endocrinologists. Improvement in oncology patient survival has also generated a cohort of survivors who have a wide range of endocrine late effects we need to address, as well as recognising the psychological impact of their experience.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in endocrinology right now?

I think the big challenge is reconciling the need for specialisation with the need for good basic care. Endocrinologists are often committed heavily to general internal medicine and I think we’re very good at it, because our specialty is broad and our training makes us excellent problem solvers. Our specialty contribution should not be overlooked because of our general medicine contribution. And of course we need to recognise when we need expert input and when we need to step up and become that expert ourselves.

What are you most looking forward to as part of the future of endocrinology?

The increased contact with patient advocacy groups is very welcome and rewarding – that was something that we didn’t learn about as undergraduates or have much exposure to as trainees.

I’m looking forward to more recognition of our specialty by outside stakeholders – because I think that will lead to more robust funding of doctors, nurses and research by national bodies. I think we’re working hard towards that increase in profile. The more access we have to genomics and proteomics, the more I think we’ll be able to deliver an individual treatment plan for the patient sitting in front of us – I think that’s really attractive to patients and satisfying for us in our own practice.

Who has inspired you most in your career?

I have had the benefit of lots of mentors over my career. Chris Thompson supervised my MD in craniopharyngioma and I learned the importance of intellectual rigour and patient-focused intervention from him. His colleague Mark Sherlock was a peer mentor, if such a thing can be said; Mark’s value for collegiality and networking to deliver better patient outcomes has led to ongoing clinical and research collaboration today. In my time at the University of Birmingham Paul Stewart and Wiebke Arlt led by expecting the highest standards from all of us – everybody raised their game – and Neil Gittoes was a key link with the Society for Endocrinology and my career development after completing training.

Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists?

Keep reading. Keep asking questions. Keep going to meetings and thinking – how does this apply to my patients? Keep talking to your patients and telling them about these new developments you’re hearing about. Keep in touch with your former colleagues and be a good collaborator. Keep an open mind, apply scientific rigour and make up your own mind.


The Society for Endocrinology is 75 years old in 2021. As part of our celebrations, we are collecting members’ opinions, with a focus towards the future – after a particularly hard year for us all!

We are keen to reflect the diversity and breadth of our discipline by hearing from members across all backgrounds, career stages, career types and geographical locations, to get a true flavour of the range of views, needs and challenges faced by our Society members.

Would you like to get involved and share your views? Simply complete this short questionnaire or send your comments to media@endocrinology.org.

Meet Early Career Nurse Committee Member, Emily Falconer

Read this interview with our new Early Career Member of the Society Nurse Committee and Endocrine Clinical Nurse Specialist at Maidstone Hospital, Emily Falconer, to find out more about her career what she enjoys most about endocrine nursing.

Tell us a little about your current position

I’ve been working in my role at Maidstone Hospital and Tunbridge Wells Trust for just over a year. My role varies from day to day – each day usually consists of dynamic function tests, running nurse-led thyroid clinics, presenting at multidisciplinary team meetings, patient steroid education clinics and chasing and interpreting results. Aside from this, I have recently joined as the Early Career Nurse Representative for the Society for Endocrinology Nurse Committee.

What inspired you to choose endocrinology as a career?

Before my current role, I was working on a busy acute medical ward specialising in gastroenterology, cardiology and endocrinology. It was here that I developed an interest in endocrinology and its vast array of conditions. I was then fortunate to take over the role of Endocrine Clinical Nurse Specialist when the position became available within my Trust.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I love the patient interaction and enjoy being a person of contact for them if they are in need of help or reassurance with their condition. I find it very rewarding when you can see the difference in patients’ wellbeing and empowering them to manage their condition.

Can you tell us about your career path and what you are most proud of?

I suppose I am proud of what I am doing today! I qualified in 2016 and then worked on the wards and as a Junior Sister. I am extremely excited to work as a Specialist Nurse in a field that I have great interest in and that has many potential areas to get involved in.

Do you have research interests?

Currently I feel I am still on a steep learning curve so I am focussing on progressing and developing within my current role. However, research is definitely something I would like to explore in the future and having been involved with the Society, I have now realised the extensive opportunities and prospects within endocrine research.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work?

I have been fortunate enough to be able to continue our endocrine service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However my unit where I perform my dynamic function tests has been moved a total of five times during the pandemic, which has kept me on my toes! It has also meant that unfortunately I have had to temporarily postpone my learning and training at alternative Trusts.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in your field?

Aside from COVID-19, the large amount of patients we are treating with lasting endocrine effects from the immunotherapy agents used in cancer therapy.

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

I am excited by the new prospects in the medical management of Cushing’s, such as the development of medications including Osilodrostat and Melanocortin-2 receptor antagonists.

Any advice for anyone interested in endocrine nursing?

If you would like a role which treats a magnitude of fascinating conditions and allows you to keep patient contact while making a difference to quality of life, then this a great opportunity to do all of that! I would advise to gain basic knowledge within an endocrine setting if possible. Working on an endocrine ward really helps as an introduction to the field.

Meet our 2020 International Medal winner, David Mangelsdorf

David Mangelsdorf is Professor and Chair of the Department of Pharmacology at UT Southwestern and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. His research focuses on nuclear receptor regulation of metabolism. Dr Mangelsdorf will present his Medal Lecture at SfE BES Online 2020, on Monday 16 November. Learn more about his research, upcoming presentation and career in our interview.

Tell us a little about your career

I became Chair of Pharmacology in 2006, which I inherited from Alfred Gilman, who discovered G proteins and won the Nobel Prize for it. At first I was reluctant to become Chair but then I realised that the role isn’t just about holding together a department but also mentorship and recruiting great, young talent. Here the Chair is given quite a bit of latitude, you keep the Chair as long as you want it and are doing a good job – really you are a benevolent dictator, where you make the rules but they are for the benefit of everyone.

I wanted to be able to juggle three balls, the department, my research lab and my family. Our department has a great administrative team to support me in managing the department and I run a joint lab with Steve Kliewer. We did our PhDs together and have now been working together since 2002.

What inspired you in to endocrinology?

As a graduate student I was in Mark Haussler’s lab, which discovered the hormonal form of vitamin D and its receptor. Mark Haussler was a great scientist and mentor who supported and inspired my work. I then went on to investigate orphan nuclear receptors.

What are you most proud of in your career so far?

The accomplishment of understanding the role of orphan nuclear receptors. I was involved in deorphanising several nuclear receptors.

I am most proud of the discovery of the farnesoid X receptor (FXR), as it has become an important therapeutic target for biliary cholangitis and more recently nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, a type of fatty liver disease. Our work showed how FXR affected liver and lipid biology and to see it now being developed into a therapeutic target is one of my most significant accomplishments.

Steve Kliewer and I are a team, we worked on FGF hormones together, to establish what they do. We worked out the FGF signaling pathway and showed the important role of FGF19 and FGF21 in liver function and metabolism.

Please tell us a little more about what you will be presenting during your Medal Lecture at SfE BES online 2020?

I will be focusing on how FGF21 signals from the liver to the brain to regulate metabolism and nutrient stress, which has implications for obesity, diabetes and the response to alcohol. You can think of FGF21 as a stress hormone, it responds to nutrient stress and two of its most common inducers in people are sweets and alcohol. FGF21 signals to the brain to trigger an anhedonic response – intended to tell you to stop consuming it.

If you give animals a choice between water and water with something sweet or alcoholic added, they will choose the sweet or alcohol up to a point but when FGF21 is administered they stop and return to only drink the water. However, if you knock out the FGF21 signal entirely, they not only keep drinking the sweet or alcoholic water but they drink it even more. FGF21 also encourages more water drinking, presumably to encourage hydration when consuming sugar or alcohol.

Why do you think people eat and drink to excess then?

This is more of an addictive or conditioned behavior but there is no evidence, yet, that FGF21 can affect this in people. We know FGF21 is active in the human brain and perhaps even in areas that control addictive behavior. It is possible that the human FGF21 pathway evolved to compensate for the intake of very sweet or alcoholic foods. We know that people who enjoy drinking, and who drink more, have more of a certain genetic marker in their β-klotho gene than teetotalers. β-klotho is a co-receptor for FGF21. This may have evolutionary significance as alcohol is a natural preservative and there was an evolutionary advantage to having a little alcohol in things like water, to prevent disease. When you start drinking, you might like a sip of beer or wine but would hate stronger alcohol like vodka. People condition themselves to drink more as they get a buzz from it.

Could the FGF21 pathway have therapeutic applications for obesity and alcoholism?

There are very few things known to limit the intake of sugar and alcohol in humans, so there is potential therapeutic value in FGF21 but this needs much more investigation. However, human genetics do point towards a role for FGF21 in overdoing alcohol and sugar consumption.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your research?

Significantly, I think like everyone else it has set us back. We thought it would be just 2 weeks lockdown back in March but even now we are not back to full working capacity. We do a lot of animal work, so we couldn’t do anything. Our long-term studies using animal models had to be stopped and that meant we had to cull colonies. So when we came back we needed to restart everything – in some studies it has set us back as much as 6 months to a year.

The other problem is the inability to interact directly with other people, either in a laboratory or at conferences.

What do you think about the move to virtual meetings?

Doing virtual talks is a terrible experience in my view, it is so artificial and the technology isn’t quite up to par yet. You really miss the human interaction.

The only benefit is saving money on travel and being able to be present at meetings you might not have been able to attend. I’ve enjoyed being at home with my family but do miss interacting with colleagues directly.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Well, before COVID-19, I enjoyed interacting with the lab – I have an open door policy. I enjoy the element of discovery, I like to be inspired, to take bold steps, not to be afraid to ask a big question, and to go in new directions. I love learning about new areas, we have just started working in neurobiology.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in your field?

Specifically in my work it is the complexity of the central nervous system. It takes a long time to do thorough and careful investigation in the brain.

More generally, the lack of funding makes it difficult to take risks and move the field forward. Investigating new areas, defining new pathways and developing new models needs a lot of funding and a lot of time.

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

To demonstrate whether FGF21 and FGF19 are viable therapeutic targets. When looking at treatments that are given long-term, there will always be problems. All drugs have side effects but the longer you are exposed to them the more likely adverse effects may occur. We need to establish if these targets are good for designing new treatments. Deciphering the neuroendocrine circuits of metabolism and behaviour is ongoing and will be key to establishing new therapeutic targets.

Any words of advice for aspiring endocrinologists?

You have to ask a big question to answer a big question. Don’t be afraid, if you want to make a difference, you have to take risks. As long as you are asking an important question, you are going to learn something – you shouldn’t spend time trying to put a round peg in a square hole, whilst losing sight of what the science is telling you.

For example, we were trying to find the ligand for a different nuclear receptor when we discovered the one for LXR. The graduate student had used a negative control that came up positive in her experiment. She was distressed that her experiment had failed but in fact she had inadvertently found the LXR ligand.

In the spirit of the times, my advice is that you should practice safely masking your face, but not your science!

You can hear David Mangelsdorf‘s Medal Lecture “FGF21 and Nutrient Stress: Eat and Drink, But Don’t Get Too Merry” on Monday 16 November at 13:40 GMT. If you haven’t already, register for SfE BES Online now!

Meet our 2020 Clinical Early Career Prize Lecture winner, Dr Steve Millership

Dr Steve Millership, Research Fellow at Imperial College London, is one of our 2020 Early Career Prize Lecture winners. His research focusses on the beta cell epigenome and the impact of diet on beta cells and he will be giving his lecture “Tracking of imprinted gene hypervariability and diet-induced deregulation in pancreatic beta cells” at SfE BES 2020 Online on Tuesday, 17 November. Read this interview to find out more about his talk and get some expert advice on how to become a successful scientist.

Can you tell us a little about your career, research and an achievement you are proud of?

I started my career in metabolic energy homeostasis and cell biology and have always been fascinated with it. I did my PhD in Cardiff University and moved to the London Institute of Medical Sciences to complete a post-doc on imprinted genes and modelling diabetes in mice. In the last year or two I have been writing grants and fellowships, as well as doing a short term fellowship with the Welcome Trust at Imperial College London to continue exploring the modulation of the beta cell epigenome and the effect of diet on beta cells in diabetes. I had been in this position for about 2 months and in the transition phase of getting set up on my own, before the pandemic started.  

A proud moment for me was winning the Early Career Prize Lecture – very exciting and unexpected! I would have originally said my proudest moment was when my first paper was accepted, but that has now been overshadowed by winning this award.

Can you tell us a little more about what you will be presenting at SfE BES Online 2020?

There are two main angles to my talk. The first is that beta cells are not all equal and a small percentage are doing different jobs to the rest. This is important to help understand how they secrete insulin as a whole islet. The model I created has the ability to image imprinted gene expression longitudinally and you can look at individual cells and analyse them. The second part to my talk is about how the diet can deregulate and alter expression of beta cell genes, which could explain why diet is so essential to beta cell function.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your research?

I didn’t go in to the lab for six weeks and have mostly been grant and application writing at home, so it has been good to have the opportunity to do that and make lockdown feel more productive. In our lab we have had restricted occupancy so there is only ever 5 people in the lab at a time. This means you don’t get the same lab environment, as everyone just gets on with their own thing and as everyone is so spread out, there is little socialising. However one benefit I have noticed is that my efficiency and organisation levels gone through the roof, as you have to make the most of limited time in the lab. I’m not usually an organised person so that is one thing that has changed for the better!

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I’ve always really enjoyed having hypothesis driven conversations and not knowing what is to come is exciting. I find it really interesting solving mysteries and working on something that has a high impact on human health.

What do you think about the move to virtual conferences?

I went to two conferences in the last month and I found having everything laid out in front of you provides an opportunity to focus on certain bits that are beneficial to you in more detail, and you can go to more talks than in person. Another benefit is having access to conferences you wouldn’t usually go to as there is no need to travel, which can be expensive.  However a major drawback of online meetings is not having as much opportunity to network with other attendees. Sometimes talking with other people you can find out valuable bits of information or find better opportunities to collaborate.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in your field?

One of the biggest challenges in beta cell biology is determining what the best method to treat diabetes is – there is always the divide between advancing beta cell function, or reducing insulin resistance. We always had the belief that efficiently functioning pancreatic beta cells is better for diabetic patients and saving beta cell function is a better option, but it is hard to decide which pathway is most effective as there are still things we don’t fully understand.

What advice would you give to aspiring endocrinologists?

One piece of advice I would suggest is, when you are writing grant or fellowship applications, give yourself time and let your ideas develop. You ideally need to give yourself between 6-12 months and write them as you go along, getting feedback from talks and people from the field.

My PhD mentor gave me a couple great pieces of advice which I didn’t expect to be so helpful.  She said to make sure you have got at least one main paper coming out of your post-doc which you can call your own, and also to get on with people! It’s difficult to achieve anything if you aren’t collaborative and you don’t get anywhere by keeping your experiments to yourself and not getting help or feedback. You need to be open to ideas and having your work critiqued and then take that feedback on board.

You can hear Dr Steve Millership’s lecture “Tracking of imprinted gene hypervariability and diet-induced deregulation in pancreatic beta cells” on Tuesday, 17 November at 15:55 GMT. If you haven’t already, register for SfE BES Online now!

Meet our 2020 Jubilee Medal winner, Professor Anne White

Anne White is Professor of Endocrine Sciences at the University of Manchester and is our Jubilee Medal winner this year. Her research focuses on POMC peptides and energy balance and she will be presenting her medal lecture at SfE BES Online 2020, on Thursday 19 November. Read this interview ahead of her lecture to find out more about her research and her career in endocrinology.

Tell us about your current research

My research focuses on the processing of the precursor for adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), propiomelanocortin (POMC), and the neuropeptide, alpha-Melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alpha MSH). For many years, my research has been involved with the diagnosis of ACTH related disorders, in parallel with understanding the role of POMC and alpha MSH in regulation of food intake and energy balance.

Tell us about your career path and what you are most proud of

In my first postdoc position, I developed monoclonal antibodies for the diagnosis of peptide and steroid hormones. This led to an interesting discovery that non-pituitary tumours causing ectopic ACTH syndrome secreted much higher concentrations of ACTH precursors, than ACTH. Having monoclonal antibodies and immunometric assays enabled easier diagnosis of these tumours. It was very difficult for a non-clinical scientist working in a clinical department to carve out a career – this was probably compounded by being a woman with young children! However, perseverance is my middle name and my interest in prohormone processing has underpinned my research in neuropeptide networks in the hypothalamus.

My early studies on the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA axis) and Cushing’s syndrome also led to research on abnormalities in the glucocorticoid receptor with David Ray, and subsequently on how chronic glucocorticoid treatment can lead to metabolic syndrome. My career has evolved despite not moving from Manchester for family reasons and I did a Royal Society Industry fellowship as my sabbatical close to home.

I am proud of the fact that I have had a rewarding career combined with a wonderful family life. I am also proud of the people who have worked for me over the years and who have established careers in their own right. I’m also proud of the work we’ve done to help patients and endocrinologists in the UK and abroad.

What inspired you to choose endocrinology as a career?

I didn’t choose endocrinology as a career, it sort of chose me! Having signed up as a post-doc, I became fascinated with the research questions and just couldn’t stop. It is much harder for a non-clinical scientist to gain the background in endocrinology that is needed to make it a career, but I had some very good mentors and the Society conferences were always a fount of information.

 What do you enjoy most about your work?

Solving research problems gives me a great sense of satisfaction. It’s a challenge and a lot of the time things go wrong, but then when you see a result which you recognise is important and you can present it successfully to your peers, it makes all the hard work worthwhile. 

I have also enjoyed working with such intelligent scientists, both those in my group and the numerous collaborators. There is also something worthwhile about doing research that I know will make a difference.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your research?

Our labs were closed for a few months but we used the opportunity to write papers and grant applications. My research team has been so resilient and they were determined to get back in the labs as soon as they could.

Please tell us a little more about what you will be presenting during your lecture at SfE BES Online 2020?

I set myself the challenge of explaining what we know about different processing pathways for POMC at the cellular level, but I also wanted to highlight the questions still to be answered. In the pituitary, POMC is processed to ACTH, but in ectopic tumours this processing is disrupted. This results in higher concentrations of POMC than ACTH in the blood, which can be used for differential diagnosis in Cushing’s syndrome. In the hypothalamus, POMC-derived peptides are important in regulating energy balance. However, there are many more steps in the cellular processing of POMC to give the melanocortin peptides. We have learnt a lot from mutations in genes involved in this pathway that result in early onset obesity in children and from mouse models. Despite this, there are complexities in these POMC networks which we don’t yet understand. Addressing these issues will be important in understanding imbalances which drive obesity and metabolic syndrome.

What do you think about the move to virtual meetings?

Moving to virtual conferences will drive a change in the way we communicate, which could be beneficial in the long-term for scientific research. It has made it so easy to listen to a talk from someone in another part of the world. However there is no doubt that, as researchers, we gain a lot from the casual conversations at a conference. The loss of this is a big disadvantage.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in your field?

We are living in very challenging times and it’s hard to predict the effect of COVID-19 on future research. It is probable that funding will be hit badly and therefore we will lose a lot of momentum. A separate challenge is trying to protect the experienced post docs and research fellows. Even without COVID-19, I would have said one of the biggest challenges is to safeguard the huge knowledge base and skill set of this group of people who have difficult career paths with a lack of secure contracts.

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

In most cases we see incremental increases in knowledge and when different findings are synthesised, we get a greater understanding. So I think major breakthroughs are only seen in retrospect. This requires endocrinologists with different skillsets building the knowledge base. The history of scientific research has taught us that discoveries often come from unlikely sources and we need to be open minded, both to support diverse research and to recognise the nature of the discovery.

Any words of advice for aspiring endocrinologists?

Identify someone you respect and ask them if they will mentor you. You need different mentors at different stages in your career, so be prepared to change mentor. I would also suggest that you find other researchers to collaborate with as they will bring a different perspective to your ideas and may have the same research interests/obsessions, so will carry on talking with you when others are bored! This could also lead to new friendships and new opportunities. My final piece of advice would be that you should be prepared to challenge your colleagues, although this should be in a gentle enquiring way to be most effective!

You can hear Professor Anne White’s Medal Lecture “POMC peptides: master regulators of the stress axis and neuroendocrine pathways in energy balance” on Thursday 19 November at 13:05 GMT. If you haven’t already, register for SfE BES Online now!

Celebrating International Open Access Week

Dalia Nikadon is currently Acting Publisher of Endocrine Connections, an open access journal jointly owned by the Society for Endocrinology and the European Society of Endocrinology (ESE). To celebrate International Open Access Week on 19-25 October this year, Dalia has written this guest post to let Society for Endocrinology members know a bit more about open access publishing, including its benefits and costs.

The open access model makes published articles available to all readers at no cost, as opposed to the traditional subscription model in which readers have access to published papers via institutional (or sometimes personal) subscriptions. This means that once an open access article is published, anyone in the world can access it with no restrictions, including the general public. There is ongoing debate surrounding the risks of open access publishing, for example members of the public accessing research proposing controversial treatment options, and the possible rise in predatory journals. However, most academics and clinicians would agree that the vision of open access is altruistic and positive, even with the possible obstacles in this model’s implementation.

Open knowledge

While many researchers and clinicians will have access to most relevant research via their institutions, nearly all researchers will have come across articles they cannot get access to, at least not without paying a one-off charge or obtaining the article via illegitimate means.

This demonstrates the main issue with the traditional publishing model – it is only accessible to members of certain institutions, or those who can afford (or want) to pay $30-50 for individual articles. This means that members of less well-funded institutions, those not associated with any institution, and readers from developing countries, are unable to access work which may be crucial to their own research or clinical practice.

This year’s International Open Access Week’s theme is “to be Open with Purpose: Taking Action to Build Structural Equity and Inclusion”. Although this year has been especially significant in highlighting inequality and injustice, as well as the need for crucial scientific research to be accessible to everyone, it is no coincidence the theme has been about equity and inclusion for the third year running. Equity and inclusion are the fundamental goals of open access publishing, not happy by-products.

Author owns their work and copyright

If you regularly publish papers, you may have come across the need to acquire permission (and pay a small fee) for figures or content reuse from publications where the copyright is assigned to the publisher. With open access publishing, authors often retain the full copyright for their published work, and other researchers wishing to reuse the work simply need to reference the original paper. Depending on which publishing license the author chooses, researchers can distribute and change the information however they want to – the most commonly used license is CC-BY and allows unlimited distribution and amendments. Some licenses are more restrictive, such as the CC-BY-NC license, which allows change and distribution of work, as long as it is non-commercial. The most restrictive – CC-BY-NC-ND – allows researchers to share your work only non-commercially and without changing it in any way.

Compliance

Europe, and especially the UK, is leading in the push towards open access research. Funders like the Wellcome Trust, Charity Open Access Fund, and UK Research Councils require all work funded by them to be published open access. Plan S is an initiative by 12 European funding bodies to ensure that all publicly-funded scientific research be made immediately open access. In the future, it is likely more funders will require open access publishing from researchers funded by them.

Cost

Unlike many subscription journals, open access publication comes with author-side publication charges. In line with the theme of this year’s Open Access Week, it is important to acknowledge that, while many institutions will provide funding for these extra costs, many less well-funded institutions, including institutions from developing countries, may be unable to provide this. One way in which publishers are trying to help is with Read and Publish deals, where institutions paying subscription costs include open access publishing fees for journals belonging to the same publisher. Additionally, Bioscientifica, the publisher for the Society for Endocrinology, waives all open access fees for authors from countries on Group A of the WHO HINARI list, and gives 50% discount to authors from Group B.

Society-owned open access

Bioscientifica is owned by the Society for Endocrinology and its profits from institutional subscriptions and open access publication charges go back to the Society and its members, via training, grants, and public outreach. Some of its profits also go to the Bioscientifica Trust, a charity which helps fund early-career scientists and clinicians. Big commercial publishers often report large profit margins, with small fractions going back to the scientific community.

The Society organises regular scientific talks from Society members for both Bioscientifica and Society staff, to show what research Bioscientifica’s profits help to fund. From personal experience, these talks are very meaningful and rewarding – not just the additional insight into the scientific aspect, but knowing that the profit we play a part in generating has an ultimately positive impact on the Society and the public.

My undergraduate degree was in biochemistry and I have found it greatly fulfilling to be able to contribute to the scientific community as Acting Publisher of Endocrine Connections. Endocrine Connections is jointly owned by the Society and ESE – Society members get a 40% discount on article publication charges. Bioscientifica also publishes OA journals on behalf of other societies, including the recently launched Reproduction and Fertility (RAF), owned by the Society of Reproduction and Fertility. All article publication charges are waived for RAF during its launch years, as well as for our other recently launched journal Vascular Biology. Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism Case Reports is endorsed by 12 societies – members of these societies get a 25% discount on publication charges.

Visit the Society’s publications page for more information on its journals and visit Bioscientifica’s publishing section to find out more about its journal portfolio.

Further information on open access:

An introduction to open access

Open access in research: catch up on the debate

Podcast: The Benefits of Open Access

Podcast: The Future of Open Access: What’s the Plan (S)?

Podcast: Could open access have unintended consequences?

Meet Daniel Drucker the Society’s 2020 Transatlantic Medal winner

Dr Daniel Drucker is a clinical researcher involved in the development of treatments for diabetes, obesity and intestinal disorders at the University of Toronto Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute. He also holds the Canada Research Chair in Regulatory Peptides and the Banting and best Diabetes Centre-Novo Nordisk chair in Incretin biology. He will be giving his Society Transatlantic Medal Lecture during SfE BES Online 2020. In this interview he tells us a little about his research and career.

Tell us about your research and lab in Toronto

I have a medium-sized lab of 8 people, where we use molecular biology and mouse physiology to study peptide hormone action. Whenever possible, we also try and extend our findings to humans, using available tissues, or occasionally, by carrying out small clinical trials. The lab has carried out basic research leading to two new treatments for type 2 diabetes and one new therapy for short bowel syndrome.

Tell us about your career path

I was very fortunate to learn molecular biology under the tutelage of Joel Habener in Boston. I returned to Toronto and was guided to adopt transgenic and knockout mice, which proved to be wise counsel. I think I am most proud of my dozens of trainees and their success. We also take pride in being extremely careful-that sounds trite, but we are generally not as concerned about being first, rather, we are very focused on making sure the data and observations are as correct as they can be. This article includes some of my career highlights in discovery, characterization, and clinical development of glucagon-like peptides.

What inspired you to choose endocrinology as a career?

I had a great role model, Gerard Burrow, who was an enthusiastic mentor, and head of endocrinology. At the same time, endocrinology was appealing since one could understand many of the disorders, and there were multiple treatments available to correct endocrine deficiencies or hormone excess states.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I like the ability to ask questions, carry out experiments, and then scrutinise the answers. Watching trainees mature as scientists is also very enjoyable. Finally, having the good fortune to see basic science translated into new medicines is a privilege and extremely rewarding.

What are you presenting during your Medal Lecture at SfE BES Online 2020?

My presentation, ‘Incretins and Cardiometabolic Disease-An Inflammatory Perspective’ will examine how inflammation underlies many of the common endocrine disorders in metabolism, from type 2 diabetes to heart disease, to the complications of obesity and fatty liver. Gut peptides, exemplified by GLP-1, attenuate inflammation in many organ systems. I will describe how GLP-1 might work, and highlight many unanswered questions, surrounding the anti-inflammatory actions of GLP-1.

What do you think about the move to virtual meetings?

Virtual meetings allow for a broader and larger global audience, and enable us to continue to share data and concepts. I suspect that many of us still miss the social and personal interactions, and we will be keen to return to many of the in person meetings once this is feasible.

What do you think are the biggest challenges in your field?

Funding!

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

I am hopeful that stem cell therapy will solve many challenges and mature to allow for true beta cell replacement therapy for people with type 1 diabetes.

Any words of advice for aspiring endocrinologists?

Have fun, find a good environment, choose mentors that are supportive, and don’t take yourself too seriously!

You can hear Dr Daniel Drucker’s Medal Lecture “Incretins and Cardiometabolic Disease-An Inflammatory Perspective” on Wednesday 18 November at 15:55 GMT.

If you haven’t already, register for SfE BES Online now!

Meet Professor David Ray, 2020 Society for Endocrinology Medal Winner

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?

Do it!

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!