Meet the 2020 Society for Endocrinology Dale Medal winner, Professor Frances Ashcroft

Our 2020 Society for Endocrinology Dale Medal winner, Frances Ashcroft, is Professor of Physiology at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Trinity College Oxford. She will be talking about her fascinating research on ion channels and their role in insulin secretion during SfE BES 2020 Online. Find out more about her career and research and get some invaluable words of advice in this interview article.

Tell us a little about your current research

My research interests are ion channels and the metabolic regulation of insulin secretion. These two fields come together in our studies of the role of ATP-sensitive potassium channels in insulin release. I am excited to understand how the metabolism of beta cells works, and how high blood glucose levels in diabetic patients change these beta cells, so that they don’t secrete insulin anymore.

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

I did my undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Cambridge in zoology. I then did post-docs in Leicester with Peter Stanfield and Los Angeles with Susumu Hagiwara, where I worked on calcium and potassium currents in muscle. After this I set up my own lab in Oxford and chose to study beta cells. I used a technology called patch clamping to look for ion channels closed by glucose. I was a total novice at patch clamping and I was fortunate that others helped me get started and that I got a grant to do it. I have always been led by the science and followed what I am interested in, which in my case is ion channels. I have written a popular book on this subject called the Spark of Life.

I’m most proud of the success of all the brilliant students and post-docs who have worked in my lab. It’s also been wonderful to meet some of the neonatal diabetes patients who have been helped by our work.  Andrew Hattersley and his team found that 50% of neonatal diabetes cases are due to mutations on the ion channel I had been working on for 20 years, and we were able to show that these mutations impaired the ability of ATP to close the channels and thus prevented insulin secretion. However they could still be closed by sulphonylurea drugs. This was very exciting because it enabled the patients to transfer from insulin injections to oral tablets.

What inspired you to choose endocrinology as a career?

When I was an undergraduate it was thought that electrical activity was mainly confined to muscle and nerve cells, so I remember being fascinated at finding that it also occurred in endocrine cells, like pancreatic beta-cells. When I took up an independent position at the University of Oxford, I decided to work in a field that was different from my previous one and where there were people at Oxford with whom I could collaborate. I picked beta-cells because of their interesting electrical activity and because I met Stephen Ashcroft, who was working on the biochemistry of insulin secretion. It was the start of a long and happy collaboration.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

There are three main things I enjoy most about my work. Firstly, making discoveries – there is nothing quite like the exhilaration of finding out something new. Secondly, seeing the people who have worked in my lab flourish is a constant joy.  And finally, the wonderful long-term collaborations I have had with some outstanding scientists, such as Steve Ashcroft, Patrik Rorsman, and Andrew Hattersley.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your research?

Lockdown was a twofold problem because it prevented us from working in the labs. It was also impossible to keep all of our animal colonies going because of reduced staff in the animal house. We are back in the labs now, but social distancing means that we cannot work at the same intensity as normal. There’s also a constant low level of anxiety about the virus that affects everyone.

What will you be presenting during your lecture at SfE BES online 2020?

I’ll be talking about our work on the role of the ATP-sensitive potassium (KATP) channel in glucose-stimulated insulin secretion. Glucose has to be metabolised by the beta-cells for it to stimulate insulin release. This is because metabolically generated ATP closes the KATP channel, thereby triggering electrical activity, calcium influx and insulin exocytosis. I’m going to show how mutations in the KATP channel that impair ATP inhibition cause neonatal diabetes and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. I’ll also talk about how chronic hyperglycaemia impairs the metabolic generation of ATP, reducing insulin secretion and speeding the progression of impaired glucose tolerance to full-blown diabetes, and what this means for diabetes therapy.

What do you think about the move to virtual meetings?

The biggest benefit is that you don’t have to travel – which is both good for the planet and saves a great deal of time.  Another benefit is that if the talks are posted online, you can listen to bits you’re particularly interested in again at your own convenience. This means you don’t run the risk of missing a talk because another you want to hear is scheduled at the same time. The drawback is that you don’t get to meet your colleagues in person and you miss out on those unexpected and stimulating conversations that lead to new collaborations.

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

I think this year has taught us that making any predictions about the future is very unwise, because we never know what’s going to come around the corner!

Any words of advice for aspiring endocrinologists?

My best advice is to ‘find a friend’ – a good person to collaborate with who you not only admire scientifically, but whose company you enjoy. My collaborators have supported me through the inevitable difficulties a scientific life throws at us, have celebrated with me when things went well, and are endlessly and wonderfully stimulating to interact with.

I also think it is important to do what makes you excited and follow what you are interested in. As science is a hard field, unless you love what you are doing, it is perhaps not the best career for you. I’d also recommend you remember Churchill’s advice – never, ever, give in. Perseverance gets you a long way in science.

You can hear Prof Frances Ashcroft’s medal lecture “Metabolic regulation of insulin secretion in health and disease” during SfE BES 2020 Online on Wednesday, 18 November, at 13:05-13:35 GMT. If you haven’t already, register for SfE BES Online now!

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!

Meet Specialist Registrar in Diabetes and Endocrinology, Dr Shazia Hussain

Dr Hussain is a specialist registrar in endocrinology and diabetes on the North East London Rotation and is currently working at the Royal London Hospital, Barts Health NHS Trust. Her passions are clinical endocrinology and diabetes, as well as medical education and training. Within the Society for Endocrinology, she is a member of the Early Career Steering Group, an SpR member of the Clinical Committee, a Leadership and Development Awards Programme Awardee and has recently joined the ‘Future of Endocrinology’ working group

Can you tell us about your current position?

I am a final year specialist registrar working in a busy east London teaching hospital. My day-to-day job involves a diverse mix of inpatient and outpatient work where I get to meet patients with acute and chronic endocrine and diabetes related conditions. I also partake in a full-time general medical on-call rota. The diversity in my current position means there are unlimited opportunities for me to learn from and share experiences with colleagues which I find immensely fulfilling.

What inspired you to specialise in endocrinology?

I have always enjoyed problem-solving medicine and so I guess it’s no surprise that I have ended up pursuing a career in endocrinology – an intellectually stimulating field that is the perfect balance of specialist and general medicine. However, my decision to specialise in endocrinology was made after working with some highly inspirational and encouraging endocrinologists whose enthusiasm and passion for their work was contagious! I was fascinated by the patient mix in the inpatient and outpatient setting and the detail with which their symptoms and results were dissected to make a diagnosis and ensure the delivery of holistic care. I feel extremely fortunate to have been exposed to specialist endocrinology and be inspired at such a crucial stage in my training and hope I can have the same impact on my junior colleagues!

Why is endocrinology an exciting field to enter?

Endocrinology is a constantly evolving field of medicine with numerous exciting and diverse opportunities to suit different individuals. Whether you are interested in clinical endocrinology, academia, leadership, education or a combination of these there is something for everyone.

I love the fact that I have been able to shape my training to gain experience in areas wider than clinical endocrinology, which has not only kept me motivated but also allowed me to positively contribute towards patient care in more ways than one. 

Furthermore, endocrinologists work closely with multiple other specialties (radiology, surgery, oncology, paediatrics and obstetrics to name a few), which means you have so much to offer your patients – many of whom you will care for over several years.

What has been a highlight of your training so far?

It’s hard for me to pick one highlight. My clinical training thus far has been an enjoyable mix of district general, teaching and tertiary centre work and allowed me to learn from numerous clinicians and members of the wider multi-disciplinary team. However, I am pleased that I chose not to follow the conventional training pathway and took time out of programme to pursue my passion for medical education, undertake a teaching fellowship and complete a MSc in medical education. I am particularly proud of being the first Endocrinology RCP Chief Registrar at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, which gave me excellent insight into NHS leadership and I hope has paved the path for future endocrine trainees who wish to explore this challenging yet rewarding area of medicine.

What are your ambitions for your future career?

I am hoping to complete my training within the next year – though the situation has been slightly less predictable given the COVID-19 pandemic! I am looking forward to taking on my first consultant post and hope to combine my clinical, medical education and leadership skills to deliver high-quality patient care. I’m motivated to attract undifferentiated trainees to pursue a career in endocrinology and also to represent diversity within NHS leadership.

Who do you most admire professionally?

I’ve learnt so much from so many of my colleagues and am hugely grateful for the time and efforts they have put into training me.

In particular, I owe a lot to my incredibly supportive training programme director, Professor Will Drake, whose passion for endocrinology and excellent clinical skills inspired me to become an endocrinologist and who I continue to learn so much from; and Professor Tahseen Chowdhury who has been an amazing mentor and always goes the extra-mile for his patients and trainees.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologist out there?

Come and work with us! There’s so much to see and learn in endocrinology and diabetes and the opportunities to shape your training to suit your interests continue to grow. If you’re unsure about whether endocrinology is for you then definitely make contact – speak to your senior colleagues (SpRs, research / clinical fellows or consultants), attend the annual National Taster Day in Endocrinology and Diabetes and/or spend some time in our clinics to see what the job involves. It’s a brilliant speciality which I would highly recommend.

View career profiles of other endocrinologists on our dedicated page.

Meet Diabetes and Endocrinology Consultant, Dr Justyna Witczak

Justyna is a Consultant in Diabetes and Endocrinology and Acute Medicine at the University Hospital of Wales. Her key interests lie in neuroendocrine tumours, thyroid disease, obesity, diabetes mellitus type 2 and inspiring the next generation of endocrine doctors. In 2015, Justyna was awarded the Lewis Thomas Gibbon Jenkins of Britton Ferry Fellowship from the Royal College of Physicians to undergo research into the characterisation of circulating extracellular vesicles in human obesity and is a recent Leadership and Development Awards Programme awardee with the Society for Endocrinology.

Tell us about your current position?

I work as a Consultant in Diabetes & Endocrinology and Acute Medicine at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. Apart from providing specialist care to patients with diabetes and endocrine conditions, my job plan also involves research and teaching activities. My specialty interests include neuroendocrine tumours, thyroid disease and diabetes mellitus type 2.

As a Committee member of the Young Diabetologist and Endocrinologist Forum (YDEF) Wales, I am also very involved in organising various educational events for junior doctors and SpRs in order to promote diabetes and endocrinology as the specialty of choice for trainees. I was recently elected as the South Wales Representative for the New Consultants Committee at the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) with the aim to represent the views and interests of the young consultants’ community within the RCP.

What inspired you to specialise in endocrinology?

Since my medical school rotations, I have always considered diabetes and endocrinology as a very interesting and attractive medical field. During my CMT years, one of my placements was in diabetes and endocrinology and it gave me the practical exposure to the clinical work in this specialty which I really enjoyed. This paired with the encouragement and support from my clinical supervisors at the time helped me to make the decision to apply for the training number and I have never looked back since.

Why is endocrinology an exciting field to enter?

There have been lots of advances in endocrine research in recent years which allows us to understand better some of the endocrine conditions. It has a direct impact on patients’ management with various new therapies being already available and new ones being constantly developed. From the professional point of view, it is a great opportunity to be a part of these changes. Moreover, the endocrine community is quite small, well connected and very friendly both in the UK and Europe which is a wonderful platform for professional and scientific collaborations.

What has been a highlight of your training so far?

The highlight of my training was to have the opportunity to take time out of programme for research. I received a 2 year fellowship award from the Royal College of Physicians of Wales (The Lewis Thomas Gibbon Jenkins of Britton Ferry Fellowship). This enabled me to complete my research project on characterisation of circulating extracellular vesicles in human obesity which led to obtaining the MD degree at Cardiff University. I also had a chance to present my work at various national and international meetings.

Having a chance to work with the “non-clinical” endocrine scientists was a great experience which will hopefully lead to long lasting scientific collaborations in future.

What are your ambitions for your future career?

My long-term career goal is to be a practising NHS Consultant involved in both clinical and research activities. In the next few years I am planning to gain experience as Principal Investigator in various diabetes and endocrinology trials and will possibly be able to establish my own local research group.

Also, I would like to encourage trainees to the world of academia by creating exciting local research opportunities for out of programme research time for our diabetes and endocrinology SpRs, academic IMTs and intercalated students leading to publications and potentially supervise their MD/PhD work as well. 

Lastly, I am intending to focus on advertising diabetes and endocrinology as an attractive career option by organising local taster events and additional training events which hopefully lead to increased numbers of trainee applications and retention. I would like to take on a role of the Specialty Educational Supervisor and perhaps in future as the Diabetes and Endocrinology TPD/STC.

Who do you most admire professionally?

Generally, I admire all the female clinical and non-clinical endocrinologists who manage to find the right work-life balance between their careers and personal life and can still be successful and fulfilled in what they do. I aspire to be one of them.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologist out there?

I would encourage everyone who is considering endocrinology as their future specialty to link up with their local endocrine teams in order to get an insight into what the specialty is really like. They should also use the opportunities to attend the taster events and other SfE organised meetings such as the SfE BES conference.

I would suggest they do not get discouraged by the 4-5 years training involving the general medical duties which often is very demanding. Instead they should look at the bigger picture and the exciting career prospects this specialty offers once the training is completed.

View career profiles of other endocrinologists on our dedicated page

Video advice for adrenal insufficiency patients

Kerrie Grounds, Lead Endocrine Specialist Nurse (ESN) at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital (RLUH) and her team have produced an educational video for patients with adrenal insufficiency. Here she explains what inspired them to create this invaluable and informative patient resource.

Kerrie Grounds adrenal crisis video image

I work with a team of fabulous, dedicated ESN’s named: Amanda Hamilton, Karen Jones and Michelle Lewin. We have created a short video for all our patients with adrenal insufficiency to access via the internet. This video provides education regarding steroid replacement therapy; sick day rules and demonstrates how to prepare and administer the hydrocortisone emergency injection should this be required in the event of an adrenal crisis. We feel this information is vital for improving quality of life for all patients with adrenal insufficiency and urge you to share the video.

Why did we create the video?

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, we commenced group education sessions for all our patients with adrenal insufficiency to deliver education regarding their steroid replacement, sick day rules and hydrocortisone emergency injection training. We ensured that at the end of each session everybody received their emergency injection prescription/ancillaries/travel letter/ sharps bin and patient information support pack, including surgical guidelines /steroid treatment card/medic alert identification etc. These sessions have been well received and the feedback has been very positive. It was delivered in a relaxed environment and I think the tea/coffee and biscuits also helped!

Then COVID-19 arrived! A very difficult and scary time for everyone involved and our main aim was to ensure all our adrenal insufficiency patients had access to an emergency injection. We have over 300 patients at present under our ESN team that we review. As we had to suspend our group education sessions, we created a letter for our patients to take to their own GP’s to prescribe the emergency hydrocortisone injection. Primary care played a vital role in ensuring our adrenal insufficiency patients all had access to this injection. We also sent our patient information packs, which we used to provide in our education sessions, to our patients alongside ancillaries (needles and syringes) to enable them to administer their injections, which also covered guidance from the Society for Endocrinology COVID-19 guidelines. We provided our ESN contact details and advised them to access the ADSHG Professor John Wass video regarding their emergency injection training. We tried our very best to ensure our patients received as much information as possible to protect them in the event of an adrenal crisis. We had an administration clerk, Ann Marie Brookes, whom played a vital role in assisting us with this. I will be forever grateful to my team for working together at such a difficult time.

We can honestly say that although Professor John Wass’ emergency injection video was very informative and inspired us, we felt that our patients would receive the video better if they saw familiar faces….who better to deliver this than their own ESN’s. We also wanted to cover steroid replacement during illness. Due to lockdown we were unable to provide face-to-face education sessions and we felt that creating a video was not only the best way, but the safest way forward. Our departmental manager gained funding for us to record the video, we created the script and practised it on our own and then filmed the video, all in one day. Please remember we are nurses and not actors and it was rather nerve racking for us all!

Why am I so passionate about this?

My ESN role is not just an occupation for me. I am passionate about endocrinology and have learned so much in the 8 years I have worked with the Endocrinology team, here at the RLUH. I work with a fabulous team of Endocrine/Diabetes Consultants at the RLUH and as mentioned above Endocrine Specialist Nurses. It still fascinates me every day and there is always room to learn within this role.

However I also have Addison’s disease. I was diagnosed at the age of 18 and have lived with this condition for 22 years now. I have always been a positive person and my glass is always half full. When diagnosed I weighed about six stone and had been unwell at home for three months, fading away. I could not stand up or eat anything, I was nauseous, vomiting, had headaches, the fatigue was so debilitating and it was frustrating for me and family as we did not know what was wrong. However, a positive side to that was I had a fabulous tan!. When I was eventually admitted to hospital and diagnosed with Addison’s disease I remember being so thankful to all the nurses and doctors who had helped me. This was when I realised I wanted to be able to give something back, so I trained to be an adult registered nurse and have never looked back. I can honestly say that when the ESN job post was advertised I thought I knew quite a bit about my Addison’s disease but I knew nothing! This job has literally saved my life. This is why I will always be thankful to my Endocrinology Consultants and fellow ESN’s here at the RLUH for the education and training they provided me, to be able to not only ensure I have a perfectly normal quality of life but to be able to provide specialist advice and empathy for my patients.

I know only too well the symptoms of low cortisol and adrenal crisis and I would say the fatigue is the worst symptom that we have to learn to live with. However, I am a mother to two beautiful boys and a full-time ESN. I have perfectly normal quality of life and feel blessed every day that I am able to manage my Addison’s disease.

Here is our Emergency Injection Steroid Replacement Video on the RLUH website or watch it on YouTube. Please share this widely and help to keep adrenal insufficiency patients safe and informed.

Learn more about Society for Endocrinology guidance on managing adrenal crisis, including a downloadable NHS Emergency Steroid Card.

Learn more about the adrenal glands and related diseases.