Harvard, AB magna cum laude, 1969-72. University of Pennsylvania, MD, 1972-76.
FMedSci FAHA FESC FISHR
Duke University, 1976-78. National Institutes of Health, 1978-84. Baylor College of Medicine, 1984-07. Imperial College London, 2007-present.
British Heart Foundation Simon Marks Chair of Regenerative Cardiology. Director, British Heart Foundation Centre of Research Excellence.
Imperial College London
Favourite thing to do in my job: To know something exciting, before anybody else, and get to tell people about it!
I use advanced stem cell techniques to study heart disease and heart repair — making new muscle cells to replace dead ones, and saving cells that are in danger of dying.
I grew up in the US, was educated at Harvard, Penn, and Duke, then trained at the National Institutes of Health in the lab of Nobel Laureate Marshall Nirenberg, the man who solved the “genetic code.” I was recruited to Houston, Texas, as part of a pioneering program on molecular biology of the heart, and was fortunate to become an early leader in this very new field. Eight years ago I moved to Imperial College London, where I head the British Heart Foundation Centre of Research Excellence, and have the opportunity to collaborate with Europe’s best engineers, chemists, and mathematicians, bringing their knowledge and experience to disorders of the heart.
Half of our current projects involve stem cells my lab discovered in the adult heart, seeking the best ways to purify, grow, implant, and activate them. In other projects, we discovered molecules that become activated in diseased heart muscle and cause the muscle cells to die, and we are now are inventing drugs to rescue the endangered cells. I am especially proud of my having trained more than 75 scientists, including current professors in the US, UK, Canada, Sweden, Taiwan, China and Japan.
My Typical Day
Discussing experiments, plans, and results with trainees and technical staff; writing, editing, and reading (scientific papers, book chapters, grant applications, research talks, student write-ups and theses).
My typical day relies on having many windows open on the computer at the same time. Any new research paper, book chapter, or grant proposal that I write needs (1) a word processor, obviously; (2) a web browser, for seeking and downloading relevant articles; (3) a document reader; (4) EndNote, for the bibliography; (5) spreadsheet, for analysing data, making graphs, and calculating grant budgets; (6) one or two graphics programmes, to create the final illustrations; (7) e-mail, to keep track of my collaborators and administrators; (8) iTunes. Mozart piano trios help me relax and think clearly; Clapton and the Stones help me write fast.
What I'd do with the prize money
Award prizes for outstanding student essays inspired by stem cells and regenerative medicine
My recent paper in Nature Communications, identifying the adult cardiac stem cell, was picked up by dozens of newspapers, including the Telegraph, Mirror, Scotsman and Metro, by the BBC radio and website, and by public-facing biomedical websites including MRC, ERC, and the NHS. I would wish your funds to be used in a way that directly promotes students’ own thinking and engagement with science, rather than merely disseminate my own work further. I believe an ideal way to do this is through an essay competition — “How Stem Cells Will Change Health Care in My Lifetime.” I will seek judges from a number of backgrounds, including science museums, university outreach offices, science educators, and professional science communicators, not merely working scientists! The funds would specifically support books or books as the prizes, a modest version of the MRC’s Max Perutz award for science writing! In this way, your funds would have a life beyond just the prizes and reception, as the prize-winning essays could become a permanent feature of the Imascientist web site and perhaps encourage others to support such a contest in future years.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
curious, clever, witty
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
discovered formerly unsuspected stem cells in the adult heart
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
“Mr. Wizard,” who had a science TV show for children in the 1950’s. Much later, my mentor, Nobel Laureate Marshall Nirenberg.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
I was sent to the headmaster’s office my very day, at age 5. I declared “Says you!” to the kindergarten teacher, having never taken orders from a stranger before.
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
travel in Japan
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To have lived in Europe in my 20’s. To know more languages than rudimentary German and snippets of Japanese. To have made my way earlier, to what I’m working on now.
Tell us a joke.
From Woody Allen. Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of them says “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”