Professor Sian Harding has retired after a career spanning over four decades in cardiovascular research.
Sian Harding, Professor of Cardiac Pharmacology, has retired from the National Heart and Lung Institute (NHLI) after a long and distinguished career throughout which she has inspired many fellow scientists. Sian became an Emeritus Professor at Imperial College London on 1 April 2022.
After obtaining her BSc and PhD in Pharmacology from King's College London, Sian joined the Cardiothoracic Institute (now NHLI) in 1980, making her one of the longest-serving members of staff at the NHLI.
Sian’s work ethic is prodigious, her commitment to the mission of the whole place and her students has been unwavering Ken MacLeod
Sian held the position of Professor of Cardiac Pharmacology from 2002 to 2022. During this time, she was Head of the Cardiovascular Division of the NHLI for six years and Interim Head of NHLI in 2018.
Sian has been a supervisor to more than 50 PhD students, published over 200 peer-reviewed papers that have been cited more than 15,000 times, and gained over £20 million in external funding for Imperial.
World expert in Takotsubo syndrome
The primary focus of Sian’s scientific work has been the change in cardiac function in the failing heart. She pioneered the study of the single cardiomyocyte and showed the underlying pathways of neurohormonal dysfunction in heart failure and Takotsubo syndrome, also known as ‘broken heart syndrome'.
This work has extended to gene therapy to modulate cardiomyocyte function, leading to the first clinical trials on myocardial gene therapy. Later, the scope of her work encompassed the derivation of human cardiomyocytes from embryonic and pluripotent stem cells and their use in cardiac repair, tissue engineering and drug discovery.
Sian was also a very senior figure within the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and served as the Director of Imperial’s BHF Centre for Cardiac Regeneration from 2013 to 2021 and Associate Director of the Imperial BHF Centre of Excellence from 2014 to 2022. She also successfully led the Cardiovascular Theme of the NIHR Imperial BRC for ten years.
Professor Metin Avkiran, Associate Medical Director (Research) at the BHF, said: "It has been an absolute pleasure to collaborate fruitfully with Sian on many fronts – research, International Society for Heart Research, BHF – over several decades.”
Sian has also served in leadership positions for many societies and committees, including as President of the European Section of the International Society for Heart Research, on the Board of the British Society for Gene and Cell Therapy, and a Special Advisor to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee on Regenerative Medicine.
Outstanding contributions to the College
In addition to being a distinguished academic and outstanding teacher, Sian has also made considerable contributions to the internal running of the College. Her internal roles include Campus Dean for South Kensington; Campus Director for Hammersmith and White City; founder member of the Academic Women’s Association of Imperial; Designated Individual under the Human Tissue Act, Chair of the main Animal Ethics and Welfare Review Board and the College Artworks Committee.
Imperial’s Provost, Professor Ian Walmsley, said: “I've always been impressed by Sian's commitment to the College's mission and her willingness to get involved. She’s made extraordinary contributions to the culture of the College and to building community within and around it. She's been instrumental in helping to build the community aspects of the White City and Hammersmith campus, initiating projects like the Jazz on the Mezz."
Champion of gender equality
Throughout her career, Sian has been a supporter and champion of gender equality in academia. Sian was the Athena Swan lead for the NHLI from 2015 to 2018, which the Department continues to hold at Silver level, and was subsequently awarded the Julia Higgins Award in 2019 alongside colleagues Professors Clare Lloyd and Sara Rankin. More recently, Sian has been involved in the College’s Athena Swan self-assessment team which is working towards renewing the College’s silver award.
Professor Stephen Curry, Assistant Provost for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, said: "I have appreciated Sian’s wisdom and clarity and her utter dedication to equality work and to the culture of Imperial. She is an example of the best that Imperial can be.”
‘Thank you for making things happen’
Several of Sian’s colleagues shared their thoughts and memories of working with her at her recent retirement party.
Professor Ken MacLeod, Professor of Cardiac Physiology at the NHLI and long-standing colleague of Sian, said: “Sian is a first-class citizen of Imperial and has been a thread that has woven itself through the cloth of the Faculty and NHLI, and it feels that in some way we may unravel a bit as she leaves us."
He added: “Sian’s work ethic is prodigious, her commitment to the mission of the whole place and her students has been unwavering. She is a good and loyal friend, an empathic and kind colleague with an enquiring mind and sharp intellect. I know that I speak for everyone when I say: ‘thank you for making things happen!"
Sian reflecting on her career
Reflecting on her career, Sian said: “After randomly choosing to study pharmacology many years ago, I was only hoping it would lead to a job with some interesting things to think about, but it’s been better than I could possibly dream. I feel so lucky to have had a career filled with interesting research and fantastic people.”
She also paid tribute to her colleagues: “Every day you come to work with such talented, super competent, creative people. Thank you to all my colleagues, in particular Peter O’Gara, who’s been with me since 1987 and supplier of the world’s best cardiomyocytes – our secret weapon for so many years!”
Sian’s latest venture is into the world of publishing and her book – The Exquisite Machine: The New Science of the Heart – is due to be published in September.
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National Heart & Lung Institute
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