Institution: Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine, University of Oxford
Career Stage: May Professor of Medicine, University of Oxford
Research Focus: Molecular Genetics of Disorders of Calcium Homeostasis
ASBMR committee/leadership positions held:
- Associate Editor for JBMR 2003-2008; 2013-present
- Programme Co-chair for organising 30th ASBMR Annual Meeting (2008)
- ASBMR Louis V Avioli Founder's Award (2009)
What brought you to the bone field and why have you stayed?
This began, in the mid 1980s, with a patient, as is often the case for physician-scientists. I had developed an early interest in endocrinology and medicine, and was admitting patients from the Emergency Department. The patient, a young woman, had severe hematemesis due to a peptic ulcer, a past history of renal stones due to primary hyperparathyroidism, and further investigation showed she had a prolactinoma. This indicated that she had multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN1), a genetic disorder inherited as an autosomal dominant trait. The genetic defect and the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms causing MEN1 were unknown. I was fortunate to work with Jeffrey O'Riordan, who had expertise in endocrinology and calcium homeostasis, and he encouraged me to pursue research.
Moreover, I attended patients with metabolic bone and mineral disorders and realised that many gaps existed in our knowledge of their underlying mechanisms, and that these could be elucidated through the recent advances in molecular biology. This was exemplified by an inspiring lecture, by Jack Martin, on the identification of parathyroid hormone-related peptide (PTHrP), as the humoral factor causing the hypercalcemia of malignancy, in which he illustrated the usefulness of the molecular approach to understanding fundamental disease processes. I was deeply excited by this discovery and the scientific approach, and obtained a Medical Research Council (MRC) clinical training fellowship to pursue research studies aimed at further understanding the biological mechanisms for mineral disorders. Since then, I have been continually supported by the MRC (UK), and the bone and mineral field has provided continuing challenges and excitement in the discovery of the underlying biological mechanisms causing human disease.
What has been your favorite ASBMR Annual Meeting moment?
My favourite ASBMR annual meeting moment occurred at my first ABMR meeting in 1988. I suddenly had the opportunity of meeting my heroes - the top researchers (e.g. Michael Whyte) whose papers I had been avidly reading – and discussing scientific ideas with them. The ASBMR was friendly and welcoming, with the senior investigators eager to discuss ideas and to provide encouragement. This was well illustrated by a conversation that I had with Gerald Aurbach in 1991. My PhD student (David Parkinson) and I had identified a PTH mutation causing an autosomal recessive form of hypoparathyroidism. Gerald Aurbach listened with interest and encouraged submission to a top quality journal, which we did, and published our results in Nature Genetics. I have always found that my favourite moments at any ASBMR annual meeting are the lively discussions in science and clinical medicine that take place around the posters, at the oral presentations, and also informally over coffee. It is these discussions that maintain the vibrancy and youthful eagerness of the ASBMR that are the bedrock of collaborations and friendships, which I most treasure.
What is a challenge you have faced and how did you overcome it?
Rejection is a tough challenge that every academic will face, whether it is a paper, grant, or a job application. I find the best way of overcoming rejection is to avoid anger (it only channels your energy into a futile activity), but instead to focus on appropriate resubmission/reapplication, while considering the constructive criticism you’ve received from reviewers. To help me focus, I will go for a long walk, run or swim; talk to my wife (always sympathetic) and family; discuss the issues with my team, colleagues and friends; and take soundings from mentors (e.g. Graham Russell and Kay Davies) who give good and direct advice.
I also try to keep the challenge in perspective by reminding myself that I am undertaking the research to understand the disease and thereby improve care for patients, who have had to overcome, during the course of their illness, much bigger challenges. Finally, I try to be resilient and will reflect on Rudyard Kipling’s advice to his son in the form of his memorable poem “If” and especially the words “…If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same...[then]…you’ll be a man, my son!”
Dr. Thakker is a May Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford.