Simon Parson Q & A

For our final Q & A of 2013, we have Simon Parson of the University of Aberdeen who is particularly interested in studying the effects of SMN protein reduction of cells and tissues other than the lower motor neurons.

When and why did you first decide you wanted to be a scientist/clinician?

I had a period working in scientific industry after my PhD, during which I realised that I missed the excitement and mental challenge of academic scientific research. I came back to work on a research project, unpaid for several months until things picked up.

How did you come to work on SMA?

Having always been interested in the neuromuscular junction (the specialised connection between lower motor neurons and skeletal muscles), I first heard about spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) after moving my research laboratory to the University of Edinburgh, where others were already involved in SMA research.

What would you be if you weren’t a scientist/clinician?

A geologist, I very nearly went to study mining engineering at university.

If you are not in the lab or seeing patients, you are...

Riding my bicycle or rallying my 1970 Austin Healey Sprite.

Describe yourself in three words

Energetic, talkative, Yorkshireman.

What has been the most important moment of your career so far?

Receiving my Personal Chair in Anatomy and moving to the University of Aberdeen earlier this year (2013).

What is your most memorable finding relating to SMA?

That the blood vessels and organ systems of the body are also severely affected in the disease (for more information on this work, see page 7 of the UK SMA Research Conference 2011 report).

SMA Support UK: This work adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that SMA is perhaps not just a disease of the lower motor neurons, especially in more severe cases. Research from laboratories across the world, including Simon’s, have identified that a number of different tissues and organs are affected in SMA mouse models and patients. Together, this suggests that SMA is perhaps a multi-system disorder, and that that effects of reduced SMN protein levels are not confined to the nervous system. For more information on this topic, see /Importance_of_Systemic_SMN_Delivery and page 5 of the 2011 UK SMA Research Meeting report.

What is your favourite conference location?

Florence, I went many years ago as a young scientist. What a beautiful city.

What is the best scientific advice you ever received?

Look very carefully and record what you actually see.

If you could start your career all over again, are there things you would do differently?

Build up more of a research portfolio before taking up a lectureship.

In your opinion, what makes a good scientist?

An open mind.

Where do you see the SMA research field in the next 10 years?

I hope that we have made some impact on providing treatment for the most severely affected children with SMA. I believe that this is likely to involve treating the whole child and not just the lower motor neurons.