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Cell death, inflammation, and steep hills - life on sabbatical

last modified Mar 02, 2017 02:14 PM

Bryant in SF
Clare in San Francisco, with Charlotte and Milton, two of her PhD students
Clare Bryant, Professor of Innate Immunology, has recently returned from sabbatical. We asked her what she had been up to.

Where did you spend your sabbatical?

I spent 9 months at Genentech, in San Francisco. Genentech was the first ever biotech company (just celebrated its 40th anniversary) and is a pharmaceutical company, now part of the Roche pharma group, that specialises in basic science to identify novel drug targets.

What did you work on?

I went to work with Vishva Dixit who runs one of the most successful inflammatory and cell death research groups in the world.  

Vishva’s group specialises in using genetic approaches to understand the molecular mechanisms underpinning cell death and inflammation. My objectives were to learn new genetic engineering techniques such as using CRISPR to tag endogenous proteins, and using transgenic mice to study innate immunological interactions with Salmonella.  

Did you achieve your goals?

Genentech kindly paid for my PhD students Milton and Charlotte to visit as interns. With their help, we succeeded in finding a number of novel proteins involved in the cellular immune response to Salmonella and built the foundations for progressing our genetic engineering projects.

What were the best and worst things about your sabbatical?

The best bit was immersing myself in a different, high quality, scientific environment without any distractions in the form of admin of teaching duties. I learnt a lot about how industry works, I travelled throughout California and fell in love with the state and its wildlife, and finally, I learnt to climb hills (proper ones – 5-8 miles worth!!!) on a bicycle. I also made many fantastic new friends and future collaborators.

The hardest thing is uprooting yourself from your home, family and pets to live on the other side of the world with a 9 hour time difference. This also presented challenges with managing my research group. However, the post docs (John, Leigh and Pani) worked extraordinarily hard to keep the lab going and support the other post docs and PhD students. I could not have managed without them. We also had a weekly Skype meeting which was entertaining, if not always for the right reasons!

What are your plans now you’re back?

I’m missing the glorious weather, living in San Francisco - which is an amazing city- , and all my new friends. We’re now following up on all our work with Genentech for papers, Charlotte and Milton are very excited to follow up the new targets they identified. I am pursuing a number of new collaborations to start new avenues of work and I shortly will start my part time Elion and Black sabbatical fellowship with GSK. Through this I will be starting a new programme of research based at GSK in Stevenage which will allow me access to all of their large scale discovery technologies that I can apply to the host innate immune response. I’ve also discovered that people appear to like my blog, so by popular demand I’m carrying on!

Clare’s blog on her sabbatical can be found here.