Currently Head of the Institute I-Motion, in Paris, and Head of the Neuromuscular Centre in Liège, Belgium, Prof. Laurent Servais is our latest SMA scientist/clinician to come under the microscope. He has recently been appointed Professor of Paediatric Neuromuscular Diseases at the MDUK Oxford Neuromuscular Centre and will begin his tenure in September 2019.
When and why did you first decide you wanted to be a scientist/clinician?
I always wanted to be either a physician… or something else. Like a flight pilot or a diplomat… I made my final decision at the age of 10, when reading “The Citadel”, from AJ Cronin (in its French translation, I must confess…)
How did you come to work on SMA?
By a real matter of chance. Somebody proposed that I take a position in neuromuscular disease and clinical research after my residency, but I knew nothing about that at that time (some people will tell you it is still the case…). I said to my future boss, “Why not? But I know nothing about neuromuscular disease and clinical research…” He told me “That is why you are the perfect fit for the position”. I liked the answer so much that I immediately answered positively.
What would you be if you weren’t a scientist / clinician?
A happy person…
More seriously, maybe a journalist
If you are not in the lab or seeing patients you are...
In the loo.
More seriously, probably on a flight, going to a congress/workshop/giving a lecture/attending a board meeting
Otherwise? Walking in the countryside or in the woods.
Describe yourself in three words.
Impertinent, disruptive, tired, humoristic, dreamer, arrogant.
You said three words, but because of the two first ones, I needed to add several others…
What has been the most important moment of your career so far?
To fill in this questionnaire.
Just after, I would say a call from Georg Hollander when I was on the subway in Paris. He told me “Congratulations for your new position in Oxford”. I started crying, still don’t know if it was sorrow to leave my team or joy to start a new exciting project. My wife tells me it was emotion, but I will never believe that. Come on, boys don’t cry like that….
What is your most memorable finding relating to SMA?
The first baby screened in southern Belgium by newborn screening.
What is your favourite conference location?
My bed. Honestly. How is it possible in the context of global warming that we are not yet able to have good online meetings, with good sound, no connection problems… ??
What is the best scientific advice you ever received?
“When your paper is rejected, re-send it immediately to a better journal”
If you could start your career all over again, are there things you would do differently?
Not sure, but maybe I would go earlier to the field where I finally ended up. And leave Belgium earlier, before internship. But I am not sure… I have lost time in several byways, but I feel sometimes it was not so useless.
In your opinion, what makes a good scientist?
He/She thinks outside the box.
Where do you see the SMA research and clinical fields in the next 10 years?
Newborn screening, early treatments, and maybe carrier screening.
Association of treatments and sensitive outcome/biomarkers to identify responders for the existing population.