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Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry

Dr Sadani Cooray

Meet Sadani Cooray, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Pharmacology and Programme Director BSc and BMedSci Pharmacology & Innovative Therapeutics at the William Harvey Research Institute.

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1. Could you tell us about your teaching and research speciality?

I lead the BSc and intercalated BSc Pharmacology degrees at the William Harvey Research Institute (WHRI) where I am also the Undergraduate Education Lead. I lead and teach receptor pharmacology on a number of modules on both the BSc Pharmacology degree as well as the BSc Biomedical Sciences degree and Chair the BSc and intercalated BSc degrees School Examination Board for Global Health. I also teach on the Graduate Entry Programme for Medicine and am a senior programme tutor for the BScs in Biomedical Science and Neuroscience and an academic advisor for Pharmacology students.

My research interests are in the field of molecular pharmacology in particular G-protein-coupled receptors. I established the function of the melanocortin receptor accessory protein (MRAP) encoded by a gene that was mutated in patients with Familial Glucocorticoid Deficiency 2. I showed for the first time that MRAP was crucial for the functional expression of the melanocortin 2 receptor (MC2R). I also determined dimerization of the Formyl peptide receptors, in particular Formyl peptide receptor 2 and elucidated a signalling signature in response to pro-resolving agonists. Over the years I won several national and international outstanding investigator awards for research.

 

2. In 2020, you were awarded three prestigious prizes in Education: the QMUL Principal and President’s Prize, the Learning Sciences Teaching Innovation award and co-awarded the Rang Prize by the British Pharmacological Society (BPS). Tell us a bit more.

I was awarded the President and Principal’s prize in recognition of my work as an outstanding educator and for having a transformative impact on pharmacology education in the UK.

I designed and developed an innovative curriculum for the BSc Pharmacology degree focussing on the current and potential future skills-gap identified by the Association for the British Pharmaceutical Industry. This was a landmark achievement, since in 2015 it was the first new undergraduate pharmacology degree to be offered in the UK for over a decade as well as the first BSc degree within the WHRI. Under my leadership, the programme received two consecutively high NSS scores; 88.2% in 2019 and 100% approval rating in 2020 which is a first ever for QMUL placing us at the top of the national subject league tables. Since then, I have also introduced a four- year BSc with a year in industry as well as an intercalating BSc in Pharmacology & Innovative Therapeutics.

Due to the pandemic and the resulting lockdown, we were unable to hold face to face on-campus lab practicals. I introduced the virtual practical tool Learning Science to QMUL. My efforts in researching, securing Queen Mary funding and then running training sessions for staff has led to the successful delivery of online practicals across the university where it is widely used on both UG and PG courses as well as the work experience programme for A’level students. Together with my colleague Dr David Gould we delivered an entire practical virtually for the ‘drug target identification’ module I co-lead without students having to step foot into the lab with 100% student engagement. We were awarded the Teaching Innovation Award in recognition of this work.

The Rang Prize, is an annual award recognising excellence in teaching and exceptional contribution to pharmacology education in the UK and I was honoured to have been co-awarded this together with my colleague and mentor Professor Nick Goulding.

 

3. Tell us a bit about your educational and training background and what advice would you give to a student wanting to follow in your footsteps?

I came to the UK as an Overseas student to study for a BSc degree in Biotechnology (Applied Biology) with a year in industry having completed my A’levels in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Although I had visited the UK on many occasions on holiday it was a culture shock at first, but I soon settled into university life. Subsequently I gained postgraduate qualifications during my studies at UCL, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Oxford University and Queen Mary. I have worked in industry as well as Public Health England, but I’ve always had a keen interest in a career in academia. After completing my PhD in 2006, I completed two postdoctoral fellowships in the Centre for Endocrinology and Centre for Biochemical Pharmacology at the WHRI before being appointed to a lectureship in 2013. I was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2016. I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA).

I have been extremely fortunate to have had really great mentors and role models throughout my higher education and this continued into my academic career. They have all helped and supported me immensely to progress in my career. It has not been an easy journey with several challenges, obstacles and disappointments along the way but there were also many successes. Over the years I have learnt to be strong, resilient and persevere. I am very passionate about my job and thoroughly enjoy what I do, and this has helped me greatly to progress to where I am now.

My advice to students would be, wherever your career path takes you, it’s very important to build up a network of supportive colleagues and find a mentor/mentors, who will support and encourage you and help you progress in your career. Always be nice and respectful towards your colleagues and acknowledge their contributions. It’s very important to learn from your mistakes, admit when you’re wrong, take on board constructive criticism, which is not always easy, work hard and do your very best. Be a life-long learner, keep an eye out for any opportunities that may heIp develop your career but first prove that you can deliver the basics first. There will be many challenges and setbacks along the way and it’s very easy to get discouraged but be strong, believe in yourself and keep going. Most of all, be passionate and enjoy what you do.