Tom Wishart Q & A

For our third instalment of 2014, we have Tom Wishart, who has recently started his own research group at the University of Edinburgh. Tom has made a number of significant contributions to the SMA research field, and is currently working to improve our understanding of the nervous system both in health and disease.

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

At undergraduate level, I found out that I actually enjoyed making incremental advances in understanding. It’s amazing that we know so little about everything. As techniques improve and we can examine things at higher resolution, we generally find out that we actually know even less than we thought we did!

How did you come to work on SMA?

My group is interested in identifying the factors that regulate nerve cell vulnerability to a range of degenerative stimuli. Due to my time in Tom Gillingwater’s lab and probably because I have children of my own (and no matter how you may try, that will alter your sensibilities), we now focus our efforts on childhood neurodegenerative disorders including SMA.

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

Not a clue. I can’t really imagine being anything else, which will be tough when my contract ends…

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

DIY (if my wife has any say)

Describe yourself in three words.

Handsome, gifted, modest…

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

Getting a PhD scholarship in Edinburgh and meeting the people who ultimately supervised me. Richard Ribchester, Tom Gillingwater, Jane Haley, and Paul Skehel effectively taught me how to question, analyse, and interpret. Not sure if that reflects well on them or not…

What is your most memorable finding relating to SMA?

Probably our recent collaborative work contributing to a research paper published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (for more information click here). The identification of a candidate therapeutic (even though it was only successful in affecting the neuromuscular system in mouse models of the disorder) was an extremely gratifying validation of the approaches we have been developing. It strengthens my belief that if we work together as a group to understand the basic biology of the SMN protein before we jump into therapeutic development that something useful will come about.

What is your favourite conference location?

Main seminar room, last row, right hand aisle seat.

What is the best scientific advice you ever received?

“If you think there is a difference, prove it”. (Richard Ribchester)

Best piece of life advice – Don’t eat the yellow snow.

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

No. It is what it is, and I am relatively content. Although, I probably wouldn’t bother writing those grants that didn’t get funded…

In your opinion, what makes a good scientist?

Don’t take anything for granted and be open to criticism.

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

Ideally there wouldn’t be a need for one anymore, but realistically we should have a decent handle on the role of SMN and the molecular consequences of its miss-expression.