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Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry

Professor Kairbaan Hodivala-Dilke

Professor of the Tumour Microenvironment

Deputy Institute Director, Barts Cancer Institute

I think my love for biology started when I was quite small, in the garden. By drawing plants and animals and really observing them, I learned to love understanding what made things grow and what made them grow in a certain way.
— Professor Kairbaan Hodivala-Dilke

I started my scientific career as a technical assistant, first at The Jodrell Laboratories, Kew Gardens, and then in the Wellcome Trust funded Malaria Research team at Imperial College, London.

Following my PhD in epithelial cell biology at The Imperial Cancer Research Fund, I was a postdoc at MIT. I later established my laboratory here at the Barts Cancer Institute and our research focuses on the cellular and molecular basis of tumour angiogenesis (blood vessel growth).

What makes your work rewarding?

The joy of having a lab is having all these brains and hands all working together, all towards a common goal. It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been in the lab for, I still get a real kick out of the discoveries; looking down the microscope and seeing something for the very first time, something no one else has ever seen before, is still a thrill for me.

New technologies mean that we can learn so much more, so much faster. There’s no other job I can think of that allows you to wake up in the morning, have an idea and then do the experiment to make your discoveries — its orgasmic! To me, that’s still the driving force — that excitement.
I was awarded the Hooke Medal by the British Society of Cell Biology in 2015 and made a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences - reflections purely of the great people I have had the privilege of working with.

Who are your role models and why?

I had several strong influences. My parents where keen artists and they always encouraged me to observe and draw. I loved music at school too; I think it instilled in me the discipline that helps in biology today.

I also had had a fantastic biology teacher there; she gave us confidence that we could really understand biology through close observation and experimentation and could actually make discoveries.

My mentors are probably my scientific heroes. They’ve all shaped my science in one form or another and have given me the attributes to pursue the questions that I want to answer. Generically, I would consider my scientific hero to be someone who doesn’t want to just do what others have done before them, but really wants to change the textbooks, challenge dogma and make a difference.

I’ve been lucky enough to have several mentors like Ian Hart who used to lead our Centre, and Richard Hynes and Fiona Watt (my postdoc and PhD supervisors respectively), that have given me that advice. Starting your own lab can be daunting. How do you find these people to do the precious experiments? I have been very fortunate in that I was once told that, when selecting people to work with you, you should always look for enthusiasm.

What balances your life outside of work?

My family and friends. Life is short, I believe in work hard and play hard!  It also helps that I do think that science is just like playing. It keeps it fun!