Our people

The Department of Medicine is committed to nurturing the talents of of its workforce. You can read about the various way in which the Department has supported the career progression of its staff by browsing the profiles below.

Profiles

Professor Elizabeth Simpson

Professor Elizabeth Simpson has been Emeritus Professor of Transplantation Biology at Imperial College since 2004; she currently carries out peer review for government and charity research bodies and provides mentoring and scientific advice to colleagues.


Career Progression
After a degree in science at Cambridge, I trained and practiced as a veterinary clinician. I was drawn back into basic Elizabeth Simpsonbiomedical research to address questions about underlying disease mechanisms. Postgraduate research on transplant rejection at the National Institute of Medical Research led me into genetics and molecular biology. Following a fellowship at NIH, I became head of an MRC funded research group at the Clinical Research Centre at Harrow, studying T cell responses to transplants and tumours, and their role in autoimmunity. I moved to the Hammersmith campus when the Clinical Sciences Centre was formed, becoming acting Director and deputy Director when the Institute became part of Imperial College. After formal retirement I transferred to the Division of Medicine where I act as mentor and scientific advisor to colleagues at Imperial and elsewhere. My peer review work for the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK, the Royal Society and the European Research Council now occupies a good deal of my time. I am particularly concerned with supporting the careers of young research scientists (clinical and basic), encouraging them to spend time in cutting edge laboratories during their training, including periods abroad.

Why did you decide on a career in science?
My initial ambition was to become a veterinary surgeon, but during my preclinical science training I became fascinated by how research into biological processes was motivated by curiosity, and increasingly I wanted to become part of that world.

Key achievements
My key achievement during my career was discovering novel cellular and molecular components of immune responses to transplants, the identity of a category of transplantation antigens and using that knowledge to manipulate rejection.

Challenges
Being a clinician moving into basic science, and changing research fields as new developments occurred, has been one of the biggest and most stimulating challenges throughout my career. Balancing work as a group leader of a research lab with home life with a small child, although testing, proved to be readily manageable, given the support of family, friends and colleagues.

I found it interesting to use the knowledge and skills developed at the bench and in managing a lab into a productive and enjoyable retirement.

Support
I have received encouragement and support from mentors and colleagues, particularly at critical stages of my career. This has been spent primarily in core funded MRC Institutes, most recently in one at Imperial.


Professor Anne Lingford-Hughes

Professor Anne Lingford-Hughes has been Professor in Addition Biology at Imperial College London for the past 5 years. She lectures in the BSc in Mental Health and Neuroscience. Her research explores the impact of alcoholism, drug addiction and gambling addiction on the brain.


Career Progression

I started medical school at Oxford and gained BA Physiological Sciences for preclinical training (1980-1983). Instead of Professor Anne Lingford-Hughesprogressing to clinical training I took up an offer of a PhD in Cambridge (1983-1986). This was key for my subsequent career development since few people did a PhD before qualifying as a clinical doctor. Before returning to clinical training, I did a post-doc at NIH (1986-1988). Whilst in that post I saw the benefit of returning to medicine and had also developed an interest in psychiatry and translational medicine. After qualifying as a clinical doctor (1991), and 3 years of psychiatry at Maudsley, I returned to research quite quickly with a fellowship at the Institute of Psychiatry. I progressed to CSL at University of Bristol in 2000 and came to Imperial College as Professor in 2009. I could not have done this without the mentors and supervisors along the way, particularly Prof Kerwin at Maudsley/ Institute of Psychiatry and Prof David Nutt at University of Bristol/Imperial College.

Research

My research has focused on using neuroimaging and neuropharmacological challenges to characterize the neurobiology of addiction. In particular I have used positron emission tomography (PET) to characterize the dopamine, opioid and GABA-benzodiazepine receptor systems in alcoholism and opiate dependence.

I am currently working on MRC funded studies, with Cambridge and Manchester, on pharmacology of different vulnerabilities to relapse in alcohol, heroin and cocaine addiction. In another collaboration with Cambridge, I am exploring the neurobiology of gambling to compare this behavioural addiction with drug addiction.

Why did you decide on a career in science?

I always enjoyed doing projects at school, particularly in biology. Although I was not particularly keen on becoming a medic, I wanted to study human biology and so I applied for medicine. I enjoyed my final undergraduate project so much that I decided to accept the offer of a PhD with the same supervisor. This was a key moment in my life, providing a foundation for my career as a clinical scientist.

Key Achievements

I consider getting my first grant as a Principal Investigator one of the key achievements of my career to date.

I feel being able to mostly manage and juggle my family life with my work has been an accomplishment.

The opportunity I have had to nurture careers of juniors so that they are able to obtain their PhD, prizes or an academic post has been incredibly rewarding.

Challenges

Juggling work and home life is one of the bigger challenges I have had to overcome during my career.

Support

During my career, I have found that managerial support for grants and applications for funding is key and at Imperial has been excellent.


  • FInd out further information on Professor Lingford-Hughes at her personal webpage.

Professor Jane Apperley

Jane is Chair of the Centre for Haematology and has led a successful and fruitful career both within Imperial College and outside of it.


Career Progression

I qualified from the University of Birmingham, intending to become a surgeon. I secured a prestigious house-job in surgery, intending then to apply for an anatomy demonstrator position, and took a district general hospital house-job in internal medicine to broaden my experience. I did the latter job first and met one of the first haematologists in the UK to be dual-qualified in internal medicine and haematology, and found the management of haematological malignancy Professor Jane Apperleyfascinating. It satisfied the urgency of treatment that had attracted me to surgery, but added the detective work of internal medicine and the close involvement in diagnosis provided by the laboratory aspects. The first lesson I learnt during my career was to keep my mind open to other possibilities at all times.

I passed the MRCP and started a haematology rotation in the West Midlands. I was fortunate in my timing to look after the first two patients who received allogeneic stem cell transplants in Birmingham and found the process highly stimulating. The second lesson I learnt was to be in the right place at the right time – total serendipity.

I discussed this with my then consultant who suggested that I move to a bigger transplant centre in London. By chance, I attended my first one day scientific meeting and sat next to someone I’d never met before, got chatting and he told me that there was a transplant post available at the Hammersmith. The post was new and its recognition for clinical training wasn’t so clear but would be great experience. This confirmed lessons 1 and 2!

Coming to Hammersmith, I found a truly enlightened approach to the management of haematological malignancies, unique in the UK. I worked very hard (Lesson 3) which was appreciated and I received back wonderful support and mentorship (Lesson 4 – the importance of mentorship). This position offered one year clinical and one year in the lab, but I extended my lab work and achieved a MD (my only regret, I should have done a PhD). I wanted to continue lab work and, again somewhat serendipitously, gene therapy was just beginning and was being performed in the context of stem cell transplant, so there was an obvious opportunity. Lessons 1 and 2 were confirmed again.

I went to Harvard to do a post-doc in gene therapy, returned to an academic position in Cambridge, and was promoted to consultant. I then moved back to the Hammersmith, again with mentorship support, and worked my way through the ranks, being promoted to Reader in 2000, Professor in 2002 and taking on the Chairmanship of the Department in 2004.

Why did you decide on a career in science?

I was fortunate because I chose haematology as a career, where it is part of the training to spend time in a diagnostic lab. This meant I was familiar with the laboratory approach, happy doing manual tasks and not intimidated by equipment. Haematology was leading the way in cellular and molecular medicine because it was easy to get clinical material. We had already established the concept of transplant where we could re-transplant ex vivo manipulated tissue. I was personally involved in stem cell transplant in the 1980s when the concept of bench to bedside was gaining formal prominence as a clinical academic approach. Without undue modesty, I was pretty good in the lab, which was important. My cell cultures didn’t get infected and my early attempts at molecular biology were okay! I found the ability to do something myself in the lab that directly led to changes and improvements in patient management very attractive.

Key Achievements

I would say one of my key achievements was my involvement in transplant and in particular transplant in chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) in the 1980s, leading to the publication of highly cited papers. I identified definitively the role of the immune system in controlling disease after transplant.

Another major achievement was my Wellcome Junior Investigator award in 1987, which led to an attachment to an excellent US laboratory and some good papers.

In terms of other accomplishments: my return to the UK and becoming a leader in transplant and CML, through the publication of valuable observations, resulting in my election to positions in the national and international transplant societies (the latter were important achievements because they supported international collaboration and the ability to influence transplant outside the UK); focusing on a single disease but being flexible enough to change from the previous standard therapy of transplant to the use of targeted molecules in the form of tyrosine kinase inhibitors; recreating my international reputation in the use of these drugs rather than transplant; my promotion to Reader and later to Professor; becoming Head of Department in 2004 and building a haematology department for the 21st century with broader expertise so that we were not reliant on a single disease for our reputation.

But - most importantly - I would say my greatest achievement has been combining my professional and family life and having a totally supportive husband and great kids.

Challenges

Returning to the UK after my time in the USA was not easy.

In terms of raising a family whilst trying to make a career, I waited to have children until I became a consultant. This meant that I was an elderly primigravida and did not have the same energy for broken nights as when I was a junior doctor. I missed some important events in my children’s lives because of work commitments. Similarly, I cut my attendance at medical and scientific meetings to get back to my family. This meant that although I presented my data and was involved in the scientific debate, immediately afterwards I was not around for many of the social occasions where collaborations often form. As a result of the above, I suffered from chronic exhaustion, which took its toll on social life and quality of life.

Another challenge was the big step from being a post-doc to directing your own lab.

An additional trial was the even bigger step from being a semi-independent consultant/senior lecturer in a department to taking on the leadership role as Chair of the Department. I had had no exposure previously to strategic developments, the financial structure and budget management. The important role of staff recruitment was also challenging and not always supported.

The almost constant re-structuring in the College and the Trust during the period of my Chairmanship of the academic department and the Chief of Service for the Trust, together with many changes of leadership and direction, has also been taxing. This recently has been combined with many changes in the management and objectives within the wider NHS. Hammersmith was in a very privileged position when I came originally in 1984, with Special Health Authority funding and the ability to select our own junior staff. The external perception is that we should still be leading the field in the UK but as we lost the additional funding and changes have evolved to make job opportunities more equitable, this has become more difficult. As just one example, we used to train the leading haematologists of the future who went all over the world to head-up their own departments. As a result we received applications from enormously talented hard-working young people from all over the world. Now we have little control over the selection of junior doctors, visa issues restrict applications from overseas and unfortunately some of the current appointees have little interest in research, either in doing it themselves or supporting others to do it, aspiring to a job in a smaller hospital as soon as they complete clinical training. As there is a shortage of district general haematologists, there is no longer any requirement to have a higher degree or even a publication to be successful in these applications. I suspect that this reflects the difficulties of combining an academic career with good quality social and family life, which is understandable in itself, but not conducive to fostering an intellectually stimulating environment.

Support

I received excellent mentorship to the point of being promoted to a personal chair in haematology. I also had invaluable support from Professor Bloom through the early years of my Chairmanship.

A few words

I’ve had a great career which is now coming towards its end. With the current NHS and University financial and regulatory constraints I am not sure how easy this will be for junior doctors in the future and I am not sure that I can wholly recommend an academic career. There have always been financial constraints but before we had a level of intellectual freedom combined with the ability for individuals to get to their senior positions through a number of different routes. The problem now lies in the selection of junior staff and the national dependence on a system that seems to undervalue academic achievements and instead favour the quality of written answers to clinical scenarios (with no guarantee that these are written by the applicant).

There is no doubt that I achieved my success by great mentorship combined with a bit of good luck, a willingness to work hard and to make personal sacrifices. But everyone around me at Hammersmith was in the same position so the atmosphere was stimulating and supportive. The current social climate does not support the sacrifice of social and family life which is probably correct, but there surely must be a recognition that it will be difficult to achieve to the same extent as before. We don’t compete nationally; we compete internationally and especially now with India, China, Korea etc. where the same niceties with respect to part-time working and family life just don’t exist – yet!


Professor Liz Lightstone

Liz Lightstone is Professor of Renal Medicine within the Division of Immunology and Inflammation. Professor Lightstone’s research focuses on lupus and kidney disease. The National Coordinator of the newly formed Rare Disease Group on pregnancy in women with CKD, she mentors renal trainees into academic track posts and has run the Academic foundation programme at the NWTFS since 2009.


Career Progression

My work and roles have changed over the years but, currently and going forward, my key roles are as a clinical Liz Lightstonenephrologist, a clinical academic and as lead for academic clinical training.

As a nephrologist, I’m a physician specialising in kidney disease with particular interests in the autoimmune disease lupus, and also caring for women with kidney disease who wish to become, or are, pregnant.  I also look after inpatients with all sorts of kidney problems, including those who have transplants and are on dialysis. 

I am now also the National Coordinator of the newly formed Rare Disease Group focusing on pregnancy in women with CKD, lupus or kidney transplant with the long term aims of improving care and outcomes for patients. I am involved in a developing programme of research to help us better identify those women at particular risk of complications of pregnancy.

I am passionate about encouraging trainee doctors into the academic life; I have run the Academic Foundation Programme at the NWTFS since 2009. This is an academic track in the Foundation school that allows newly qualified doctors to sample academic research very early in their careers, and has attracted some absolutely outstanding young doctors from around the UK. 

I also mentor renal trainees into academic track posts. We have been very successful in developing a whole cadre of renal trainees with PhDs and MDs, and now have several progressing through to academic clinical lecturers. These are the clinician scientists of the future.

So, it’s a broad portfolio of interests, but ultimately they all focus on improving outcomes for renal patients through research and better training.

Research

My interest in lupus has led to research into improving diagnosis and outcomes in patients with lupus, particularly when it affects the kidneys.  I am now the Chief Investigator on a large, multinational randomised controlled trial that for the first time is going to evaluate whether oral steroids really are needed in the treatment of lupus nephritis.  We have pioneered alternative approaches at the Imperial Lupus centre and the work is now being taken forward in an Arthritis Research UK funded RCT. 

Why did you decide on a career in science?

I didn’t!  I am an accidental nephrologist and a more accidental scientist.  It took a very long time to find my strengths and weaknesses. But actually it was all good, as I went from very basic science in my PhD to changing track and gradually working from basic through translational to clinical trials.  I now understand that I’m really very good at bringing people together and working towards a vision. Although quite removed from basic science, my background makes it much easier to see the bridges that can be built and link the basic with the clinical.

Key Achievements

My biggest achievement to date is developing the RITUXILIP trial, gaining the provision of global support from Roche (approximately €1,000,000) and being almost at the point of starting!  Bringing together a global group of collaborators all committed to the journey and excited at the prospect of a truly ground-breaking trial.

Another key achievement was taking pregnancy and CKD to the national agenda and bringing together the collaborative group to run the Rare Disease Group.

Challenges & Support

I started out when there were very few women in nephrology let alone academia.  As a registrar in renal medicine in 1988, I did a survey and discovered there was not a single female nephrology consultant in England!  So, there was a real lack of role models in clinical medicine and even fewer in academia.  Academic medicine was a very macho environment and felt quite alien, but I loved the opportunity to learn something completely new and I truly loved the intensity of the RPMS. 

My first big challenge was becoming a mother whilst working full time, and trying to develop a coherent academic programme.  I married within 3 weeks of qualifying (and kept my maiden name) as I’d been with my husband since my second year of preclinical.  I chose nephrology without considering the impact on home life, working hours or how on earth one managed family.  When I asked my renal boss when I was SHO whether I could do nephrology he said of course, but there’s no room for a part-timer. I remember being indignant at the thought of being a part timer!

However, of course I wanted children and I chose my PhD supervisor, the wonderful Professor Av Mitchison, not just because immunology appealed but on first meeting me as a potential supervisee, he said that doing a PhD was a great time to have a family! No one I worked with before even mentioned I had reproductive potential.  But it didn’t happen and became a major preoccupation.  I finally had Josh when I was 34 and Natalie when I was nearly 36. Trying to get pregnant (and various calamities along the way) was completely absorbing and distracting. I was unprepared, and felt constantly torn. This was compounded by having my elderly and increasingly frail parents live with us as well.  My science suffered and I was working absurdly hard.  It was only when acute severe illness suddenly intervened in 2001 that I had the space (5 weeks enforced sick leave) to realise that this was madness.  At that point the College (specifically the Department of Medicine) agreed, and I think it was the first time they had contemplated this, that I could be a part time academic. I went down to 3 days a week.  It was completely liberating – I reconnected with my children, friends (women in my community and at my children’s school) and started to enjoy work again.  But I had to develop new direction in research and it wasn’t straight forward.

Fast forward to the 2008/2009 HEFCE – I had under-published and was considered at risk.  Again I had to take stock and fought ferociously to preserve my position (which I did) but it also was exactly the call to arms I needed and made me refocus with renewed energy, to value what I was doing and what my strengths were.  I moved much more into aligning my clinical and research interests.  Around a similar time (2009-2010), the department started a listening exercise and also professional development opportunities.  I nearly took part in the then newly developed Academic Development Centre programmes for Senior Lecturers & Readers to support their progression to the next level but realised I didn’t have the time.  However, the very act of thinking about what it was I wanted, and visualising how would get there, again made me refocus, gather my energy and begin a programme to make things happen. I found the briefings on academic promotion exceptionally helpful (particularly from Professors Stephen Richardson and Dot Griffiths) as they were out with the department and made me much more aware of the college’s strategy.  I liked the vision that every academic should be appointed on the basis that they can be a professor – it’s not a competition with anyone except yourself.  I felt there was enormous willingness for people to succeed. 

The restructuring with the department and division also led to much more direct support from my Head of Division who offered really outstanding guidance and support.  I took on new challenges as I wasn’t entirely sure if my future lay predominantly in research or education, so I leapt into an opportunity to get involved with the Foundation Programme. I was incredibly supported by the then director of the Foundation school, Dr Andrew Frankel. This led me to Professor Jenny Higham who has been a fantastic mentor in the last few years: supportive, challenging, willing to say when I should and shouldn’t make the next step, and encouraging me all the way.  

So, within 2 years of being at risk I was promoted to Reader and 3 years later Professor.  In that time, my children have graduated from school with fantastic success. My dear parents have passed away but each lived until 92 and both died at home  (in 2004 and 2011) with us which I consider a blessing. My husband, a very active GP and recently CCG Chair as well, has gone from strength to strength. 

I have seen a huge change in the faculty and department over the last 5 years – and it’s a two way street. Sometimes adversity makes you realise where you could do things differently, and you have to persuade people about this, but equally feeling the collective will of colleagues and seniors that you can do this makes it much more likely to happen.  I have become much more proactive in making things happen, but also seeking support. For instance, there was a really great sense of a collective win when I persuaded Arthritis Research UK to confirm that I’d been awarded the grant the day before our divisional away day a couple of years ago. That was a really sweet moment!


Professor Päivi Ojala

Professor Ojala joined Imperial in 2013, previously working as a Research Professor for the Finnish Cancer Institute and a group leader at the Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Helsinki. Her research group seeks to make fundamental contributions to the field of human tumour viruses.


Professor Ojala

Career Progression

I joined Imperial College London in 2013 to become Chair in Viral Tumorigenesis. Prior to this appointment I worked as a Research Professor for the Finnish Cancer Institute and a group leader at the Insititute of Biotechnology at the University of Helsinki. I undertook my MSc and PhD at the University of Helsinki. After my PhD I worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University before returning to Helsinki for a second postdoctoral period.

Research

My group’s interdisciplinary research program has the potential to make fundamental contributions to the fields of cancer biology and virus-host cell interactions. These can lead to major breakthroughs for the origin and mechanisms of Kaposi sarcomagenesis, as well as deepen our understanding of cancer development and progress in general.

The research in the Ojala group aims to understand the regulatory networks of reprogramming of lymphatic endothelial cell (LECs) and investigate the contribution of the reprogrammed cells to Kaposi sarcomagenesis. We are also continuing our previous work to deepen the molecular understanding of the regulation of the two KSHV replication programs, the latent and lytic replication phases. The discovery of virus-induced endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EndMT) has motivated us to hypothesize that LEC reprogramming could be involved also in other cancers involving the lymphatics. We are applying a variety of molecular biology techniques, developing sophisticated cell models combined with large- and medium-scale, image-based high-content screening platforms as well as in vivo mouse tumour models.

Why did you decide on a career in science?

I greatly enjoyed studying biology at high school, and at that time developed a strong interest in genetics and DNA biology and cloning.

Key Achievements

My research group has demonstrated restoration of p53 function by small molecule inhibitors as a novel therapeutic modality for KSHV-lymphomas (J Clin Invest 2007; Oncogene, 2013), function of KSHV miRNAs in apoptosis inhibition (Suffert et al., PLoS Pathogens, 2011), and identified cellular Pim kinases and an epigenetic regulator (nucleophosmin, NPM) to be involved in viral reactivation and tumorigenesis (Cell 2008, and PLoS Pathogens 2009 & 2010). Using novel 3D organotypic cultures we have discovered a viral oncogenesis mechanism where KSHV, through its oncogenes vGPCR and vFLIP, induces Notch-dependent transcriptional reprogramming of primary lymphatic endothelial cells (LECs) to invasive, mesenchymal cells via endothelial-to-mesenchymal transition (Cheng et al., Cell Host & Microbe, 2011).

Challenges

Despite being quite successful in my own research area whilst I worked as an independent Principal Investigator in Finland, it was extremely difficult to obtain positions that would last for longer than three years. This was mostly due to a lack of a tenure-track system for more established researchers at the University of Helsinki.

Support

I have received strong support from my colleagues in the Section of Virology and the Department of Medicine on many areas including grant applications, mentoring and help in finding new networks in the UK research environment.


Professor Shiranee Sriskandan

Shiranee is Clinical Professor of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine and an ID consultant for the Imperial College Healthcare Trust. Her research addresses the mechanisms by which serious Gram positive pathogens cause disease, and examines the interface between pathogen molecular microbiology and host immune response.


Research

My research group focuses on the potential mechanisms by which serious Gram positive pathogens cause disease, using the group A streptococcus (Streptococcus pyogenes) as a paradigm.Professor Shiranee Sriskandan

S.pyogenes causes a spectrum of disease ranging from pharyngitis to invasive infections such as necrotising fasciitis, pneumonia, peripartum sepsis and toxic shock. In the developing world, S. pyogenes infections are associated with development of rheumatic fever, a major cause of valvular heart disease, and glomerulonephritis.

The group's research examines the interface between pathogen molecular microbiology and host immune response, and builds on considerable clinical experience of severe bacterial sepsis and septic shock, informed by epidemiological trends and changes in disease phenotype over time.

One focus is the role of bacterial superantigens in the molecular pathogenesis of both experimental and clinical sepsis, for example, the classical phage-encoded scarlet fever toxins, and the intriguingly potent chromosomal superantigen SMEZ (streptococcal mitogenic exotoxin Z) with additional projects investigating staphylococcal superantigen toxins that cause both menstrual and non-menstrual toxic shock.

Evasion of the human innate immune response is a trademark of S. pyogenes and the group has a keen interest in the function and regulation of the streptococcal CXC chemokine-cleaving protease, SpyCEP (S. pyogenes cell envelope protease, cepA) as well as regulation of bacterial capsule production.

Key Achievements 

Fortune struck twice in close succession;having had two fellowships from the MRC, I was awarded a six year GSK senior clinical fellowship to continue my work on S. pyogenes and a significant grant from DARPA, the blue-skies venture arm of the US Department of Defense. They supported slightly high-risk research that would not be funded through normal funding mechanisms, including projects in the area of bio-defence, which was perfectly aligned with my own work of developing therapeutics against bacterial toxins. The two awards gave me enough money to start up my research group and develop new collaborations.

Challenges

When I had my first child, I was just at the end of one of my fellowships, and I was going on maternity leave. At the very last minute, I was told that there had been a mistake and that there wouldn’t be any money for me to have maternity pay unless I was to use up my fellowship. I actually had to write a scientific justification for why I had to extend it. The great news is that, nowadays, fellowships like that are extended almost automatically if a woman goes on maternity leave.

Support

I was mentored and supervised by somebody who was incredibly supportive, and got me working on an entirely new field for his lab which was Gram positive bacterial infections. This proved to be a fascinating area; I got my PhD, and I stayed in research after that because I really enjoyed it. I have been fortunate to have a supportive family and this has allowed me to travel when required. Perhaps more importantly now, my own group are hugely supportive –or perhaps tolerant!- of my dual role as a clinician and researcher. They understand that our reasearch is very much fuelled by what we see in the clinic.


Dr Sophie Rutschmann

Dr Sophie Rutschmann is a Lecturer in Molecular Immunology within the Division of Immunology and Inflammation.


Career Progression

In 2002, I completed my PhD in genetics and immunology in France before moving to the US to do a post-doc on genetics and immunology until 2006. I have since been a Lecturer at Imperial College London.

Research

Dr Sophie RutschmannMy research focuses on the genetics of memory T cells.

Immunological memory provides improved long-term protection against re-infection by previously encountered pathogens. Upon acute viral infection, pathogen-specific T lymphocytes multiply rapidly and acquire effector functions that enable them to kill infected cells. This expansion phase is followed by a period of massive cell death which eliminates more than 90% of antigen-specific T cells. The remaining 10% constitute the pool of long-term memory T lymphocytes. Despite the considerable incidence of viral infections affecting mankind worldwide and the crucial role played by memory CD8 T cells in the antiviral immune response, only a handful of genes have been shown in vivo to control the development and maintenance of memory T cells.

To identify new genes required for the development and maintenance of memory T cells, we are using an in vivo unbiased forward genetic strategy. We have created germline mutant lines which have been individually screened in vivo for their CD8 T cell immune response to virus. Three mutations affecting the development and long-term maintenance of anti-viral CD8 T cells have been isolated and positionaly cloned. Their effect on CD8 T cells' immune response and the immune system in general is currently being characterised.

Why did you decide on a career in science?

I can’t remember any particular moment I decided to become a scientist. I was accepted to train as a social worker right after my baccalaureate but immediately realised that I would be too young to work with difficult teenagers. Instead, I joined Strasbourg University to study biology, chemistry and physics, thinking I could always go back to training as a social worker later on...but never did! I went on to study genetics in Paris, came back to do a PhD on genetics in drosophila (by far my best years as a student) and then a post-doc in the US. So even if it wasn't my initial career choice, I soon realised that academia is one of the very few career paths with a constant intellectual stimulation...and I like that.

Key Achievements

A key achievement in my career was the publication of my first senior author paper in difficult conditions.

I consider supporting my first PhD student to the completion of her thesis a real success and a very rewarding experience as a teacher.

However, one of my biggest achievements to date is being able to manage a full-time academic job with a long commute and 3 very young children.

Challenges

I certainly came across challenges in my career that I have had to work hard to overcome. For example, my lab is spread over two campuses, as the resources required for my work are not all available at Hammersmith. A good amount of motivation, organisation and flexibility definitely help in my experimental work. More recently, I also had to significantly adapt my working habits to accommodate a young family and all its imperatives.

Support

Imperial's support for parents and carers is extremely good and keeps on improving.