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The William Harvey Research Institute - Barts and The London

Research in Focus

Trinidad Montero-Melendez, Postdoctoral Researcher (Biochemical Pharmacology)

December 2018

Please can you introduce yourself? 

My name is Trini and I have been a scientist at the William Harvey Research Institute for the last 10 years. I earned my degree in Pharmacy at the University of Granada - Spain, during which I discovered and got fascinated by Molecular Biology and genetic engineering and how incredibly easy is to modulate the most fundamental molecule of life, DNA. I then completed my PhD in Molecular Biology on whole genome gene expression studies. Immediately after, I joined the William Harvey Research Institute where I focused on and strengthened my training in the field of Drug Discovery.

What are your main research interests?

Being a Pharmacologist by training, my main interests are centred on drug discovery and development of novel therapeutics. My research involves the characterization of drug actions as well as the identification of novel targets and pathogenic mechanism of disease. My research is very focused on the field of inflammation, and more specifically on rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic inflammatory conditions with high therapeutic needs. I have also developed a strong interest in the field of Pharmacogenomics and how, by understanding how the genetic makeup of an individual affects the therapeutic response, we can aim for more personalized approaches.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on multiple projects, with the concept of resolution of inflammation as a common core, which focuses on the development of novel drugs to target chronic inflammatory diseases by mimicking the way our body naturally resolves inflammation. On one hand, I am investigating molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis with special interest in defining novel pharmacological targets based on pro-resolving receptors. In particular, I am studying the role of fibroblasts and novel ways to deactivate these aggressive and destructive cells within the arthritic joint. On the other hand, I am working on several projects focused on drug discovery and development in close collaboration with industry. I am also developing novel patentable tools to activate pro-resolving receptors, funded by Versus Arthritis.

Being a Biomedical scientist is about deciphering how nature created life and us the way we are, perfecting organisms for thousands of millions of years, and how we can tweak those mechanisms to improve our health and success as a species.

What inspires you to carry out your research?

For me, being a Biomedical scientist is about deciphering how nature created life and us the way we are, perfecting organisms for thousands of millions of years, and how we can tweak those mechanisms to improve our health and success as a species. Finding the truth on any biological phenomenon I may be studying, regardless of whether it fits with my hypothesis or not, is something that I find quite inspiring.

In a bit less philosophical tone, to see how a drug (AP1189) for which I discovered the mode of action may soon be entering phase-II clinical trials, is also quite rewarding.

What are some of the biggest challenges to carrying out your research?

I find very challenging and overwhelming the hurry at which the world is changing and how difficult is to stay up-to-date. When only two decades ago the difficulty was to find sources of information, the challenge today is to discern which of the almost infinite available information is relevant... To read, or not to read? The rapid advances in technology and computerization are leading to discoveries that a human brain could never dream to achieve. However, from a scientists point of view (as a worker) the high costs associated represent a challenge for competition, as not every lab can afford such sophistication.

In addition, the current hyper-competition in the research environment can impact on creativity, by making us scientists (particularly young ones with uncertain futures) to sometimes shift our focus and strengths towards satisfying the rules of the competition (i.e. REF, impact factors, funds raised, and other KPIs) and relegating to a secondary priority the progress on scientific knowledge and translation into medical advances. A difficult task to solve though.

What advice would you give to a researcher starting out in your field?

I would recommend young scientists carefully assess their own motivations, desires and ambitions as individuals and make sure they have chosen the right place to achieve them. And every now and then, to assess if all their hard work, extra hours and personal efforts are leading them towards achieving their own desires and ambitions… instead of someone else’s.

I would tell new scientists to follow the reasons why one day, they decided to be scientists and lead their careers/lives according to themselves, and not to get too obsessed by the “pre-made” career paths that we are asked to follow nowadays, according to what the system dictates... be more creative than that!