Academic focus: Nutritional and metabolic sources of DNA damage that impacts cancer and aging.
Research summary: As a physician scientist, my research aims to identify the chemicals produced by our metabolism that damages our DNA and to better understand how such DNA damage can impact our health. Ultimately, such knowledge can potentially be translated to novel dietary and pharmacological therapies to treat human diseases.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
My family (wife, two kids, dog, cat) and I very much enjoy exploring the local area. The waterfalls are spectacular, the locals are so welcoming, and we just love visiting new spots on the map. I am also a big lacrosse fan, so supporting Big Red lacrosse is a dream come true!
What (specifically) brought you to Cornell CALS?
All my research in physiological sources of DNA damage was pointing toward metabolism and nutrition, so for me, it made complete sense to take my research to the Division of Nutritional Sciences for the synergy in different scientific disciplines and the expertise in metabolism.
What do you think is important for people to understand about your field?
If we appreciate that mutations in our DNA can cause terrible diseases such as cancer, then it is of fundamental importance to understand what causes the DNA damage that causes such mutations. My research is really trying to identify the physiological causes of DNA damage. I strongly believe it’s the chemical byproducts produced by our metabolism, and the trick is to know which of these metabolic pathways can be modified through diet or drugs to improve our health.
Why did you feel inspired to pursue a career in this field?
As a medical student in Cambridge, I fell in love with molecular biology. It was an exciting time in the field: The human genome had just been sequenced, and new technologies were revealing ever more DNA mutations in cancer. But it was my Ph.D. mentor, Dr. Michael Neuberger, that truly set alight my passion for science.
What’s the most surprising/interesting thing you’ve discovered about Cornell and/or Ithaca so far?
Ithaca has the perfect combination of gentle relaxed lifestyle with world-class research environment. Getting around town is very easy, walking and cycling to work is a joy, and it has just about everything I need without an overload of choices.
If you had unlimited grant funding, what major problem in your field would you want to solve?
I think the biggest problem in my field (and all science fields) is the stressful and perilous nature of academia. I believe that great science comes from creativity, bringing different disciplines together to collaborate and, most importantly, investing in the people. So I would firstly triple everyone’s salary with stable career/long-term positions to attract the best and brightest from all disciplines. Secondly, build a shiny state-of-the-art building with free coffee/meals at set times so everyone comes together to chat about science. Thirdly, remove the hierarchical lab structure and enable scientists at all levels to pitch high risk/high reward ideas. All it takes is one discovery to change the field!
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