Join Professor Paul Moss (Head of School of Cancer Sciences, College of Medical and Dental Sciences) as he describes his career to date, his passion for his research and how it is helping to change the world, and how he enjoys working with postgraduate researchers from the UK and abroad.
S1 Professor Paul Moss, Professor of Haematology and Head of School of Cancer Sciences
I’m Paul Moss, I’m Professor of Haematology at the University of Birmingham. Since 2008 I’ve also been Head of the School of Cancer Sciences at the university.
So I trained in Medicine at University Cambridge and I went there – I think when I went I thought I was going to be a cardio-thoracic surgeon and then I started to love the science and got into the science of medicine and human health, so after that I went to Oxford and finished my training, did some jobs in London and did a PhD in immunology and trained in haematology – that’s blood diseases. I came to Birmingham at the age of 36 to start the academic department of haematology and I’ve been here ever since and to be honest, with my colleagues we’ve done a good job and grown it very strongly. So that’s my academic background.
Overview of research to date
My primary interest is on the study of the immune system and human health. The three main areas of interest, the first is how the immune system targets cancer and the fight against cancer. The second is how the immune system is important in bone marrow transplantation, or stem cell transplantation. And finally I’m also interested in how our immune system can control chronic viral infections and the importance of that to human health.
I think one of the best periods in science was when I was involved with some of the first work on reagents called [… peptide …. 0:01:28] with some colleagues from California and these were little molecules that were able to identify white cells, or T-cells, against a specific virus and we studied these in patients who’d got HIV infection and were able to pull out from blood samples HIV specific T-cells and I remember when we first did this experiment, I was actually at my parents house and my colleague was in the lab and he rang me up one night and showed that he’d identified. That was a very exciting moment and that paper’s been cited over three and a half thousand times. So what we then went on to do was to develop a technique where we could take these CMV specific white cells, or T-cells, from a transplant donor and put them directly into a patient who was suffering from viral disease. We did the first trial of that in the world and the results were very interesting and it’s really exciting that that’s now gone on to various trials in this country and around the world.
Postgraduate and doctoral research: working with Paul Moss
I’ve supervised lots of PhD students over the years and it’s always absolutely great fun. Some are basic scientists and some are clinical students, because I’m also a doctor and I see patients with leukaemia every week. They’ve gone on to all sorts of careers. It’s lovely to see, some have gone to industry, some are working still in academic laboratories and some of course have gone to the clinical world. So I keep in touch with many of them and it’s wonderful to see their career paths.
I think one of our approaches to study the diseases we’re interested in, such as viral infection, cancer and transplantation, is we interact with the very best scientists we can find in any discipline, be it genetics or clinical trials or immunology, and we have extremely exciting lab meetings. I think my Friday morning lab meeting is my favourite time of the week and students get to interact and present at a really high level and we’ve got some really exciting projects going on. So I think it's a great training environment.
International research students
There are so many reasons why it’s great to come and do a PhD at the university here. The city has so much to offer, its great ethnic diversity, we have a tremendous campus here on the university and as I think I’ve explained, there’s a lot of excitement in the lab about research projects. So I think it’s a tremendously positive and rewarding experience to come here.
It’s great to have international students, they add so much breadth and interest to the lab. I had a wonderful student from Iran who did great work on showing how the immune response to CMV increases in people as they get older. It’s a very important piece of work. She’s now back in Iran in an important position. I’m co-supervising a student at the moment in Karachi in Pakistan and that was great and I got to visit there for a week and go to some lecturers and she was here actually last week showing us the data. That’s really wonderful. So yeah, I’ve had a number of international students and they’ve added superb value to the lab.
Going forward: research aspirations
I think the aspirations for the future are to raise the performance of the lab even more to take advantage of the opportunities of immunology and immunotherapy and improving human health and we really want to tackle the immunology of tackling cancer, controlling cancer and also chronic viral infections where I think we’ve got real opportunity to improve human health and even extend human lifespan. It’s very exciting.
It’s a common question isn’t it, what gets you up in the morning? But I think for me it’s what keeps you awake at night because the power and the excitement of medical research at the moment is quite extraordinary. The amount of things we’re seeing and witnessing in front of our eyes and what we can do in the laboratory are so exciting that that’s the main problem for me actually, is getting to sleep.
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