In Early Career Researchers - a series of interviews that lift the lid on the Early Career Researcher community at St George’s, University of London – researchers talk about out their ambitions, motivations and about their research.

Christopher Carroll

calendar-icon 14 March 2018

We spoke to Christopher Carroll, Lecturer in Human Genetics.

You joined St George’s in 2017. What was your previous role?

“I was working in Helsinki, Finland as a post-doctoral researcher since 2007. My research group was headed by Professor Anu Suomalainen, who had an interest in inherited diseases, specifically mitochondrial disorders.

“The Suomalainen group was looking to generate and study transgenic animal models for mitochondrial diseases to better understand the mechanisms of disease and for preclinical testing of novel treatments. This was the primary focus of my work for the first few years. Around 2010, there was a big development in DNA sequencing technology, with the introduction of next generation sequencing, which revolutionised how we use genetic testing to find the genetic variants that cause inherited diseases.

“This opened up a whole new era in genomic medicine. I started getting involved in these kinds of projects and began to see the diagnostic work we were doing have an immediate impact. Finding a genetic diagnosis for patients is really important as it can inform family planning decisions and help clinicians in providing the best possible management and treatment for patients.”

What has been the impact of next generation sequencing technology on your research?

“Before next generation sequencing, there was a considerable number of inherited diseases that had been neglected. The new technology allowed me to start researching additional groups of inherited diseases that had previously been understudied.

“I was awarded funding in Finland to investigate the genetic basis of hereditary childhood ataxia, which is a group of disorders that affect co-ordination, balance and speech. At St George’s, I am analysing genetic data from patients in collaboration with researchers in Helsinki.”

How are you finding working at St George’s?

“It has been a smooth transition moving here. Everybody in the department has been really helpful.

“Currently, I am writing grants for the projects I am interested in working on in future. I am very impressed with the expertise provided by the Joint Research and Enterprise Services team. They contacted me directly offering their support even before I arrived here and they have been very helpful with applications.

“I also appreciate senior researchers offering grant mentor support. Atticus Hainsworth, Tom Carter and other senior researchers have kindly been reviewing grant applications from my group, one of which was a postdoctoral fellowship awarded to Taru Hilander. It is good to know that the more established members of the research community at St George’s are supportive of early career researchers.”

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

“The answer on the tip of my tongue would be simply that I really enjoy research. I started at Imperial College London as a research assistant where I developed transgenic mouse models carrying human mutations that cause ataxia. I started with an idea that we are going to find cures for rare diseases. It turned out to be very challenging, but I think we are seeing many positive steps forward in the development of effective treatments for rare diseases. I think antisense oligonucleotides for Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a good example of that. Such developments have reinforced my idea that the research we are doing is vital for the benefit of human health.

“During my PhD I investigated complex diseases that affect the cardiovascular system, however afterwards I realised that I really wanted to get back into the research that I enjoyed, which was rare inherited diseases. While deciding on what to study as a postdoc, I got an email of a job offer from Anu and was won over by the lab and the people in Helsinki. My post-doc was funded there and I started to realise I could have a long-term career in research."

Why St George’s?

“I came to St George’s because I liked the prospect of working in the 100,000 Genome Project, which aims to sequence 100,000 genomes from people in the UK. Participants are NHS patients with rare disease, plus their families, and patients with cancer. The aim of the project is to create new diagnoses, offer new and more effective treatments for rare diseases and enable new medical research.

“The introduction of next generation sequencing showed me what effect my work could have for patients and clinicians. That’s part of the reason I wanted to come to St George’s, I think that there is great potential to develop partnership with clinicians in the NHS Trust here for the benefit of patients.”
“I am also originally from London, so it has been great to come back and establish a closer connection with my family.”

What are your interests outside of work?

"I love to go cycling on my road bike and on walks with our dog."