Dr Henry Staines, Lecturer, in the Institute of Infection and Immunity talks about his ambitions and research 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.

Henry Staines

calendar-icon 16 March 2018

What’s your role at St George’s?

“I am a lecturer and researcher in the Institute for Infection & Immunity and am part of the Centre for Global Health and the Centre for Diagnostics and Antimicrobial Resistance. I started working at St George’s in August 2005, 12 years ago. I first came here with a Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellowship, which gave me four years of funding to research nutrient transport in malarial parasites.”

What has your career looked like so far?

“I undertook my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry at the University of Kent, where I was lectured by Professor Simon Jarvis, who got me interested in transport proteins.

“I then took a research assistant job with Professor Clive Ellory at Oxford University working on transport proteins in red blood cells. Bizarrely, I was employed by the Horserace Betting Levy Board. When horses exercise too much, their blood becomes acidic and this can activate transport proteins that release electrolytes from their red blood cells. This is potentially bad news for the horse because the blood becomes viscous and doesn’t transport oxygen as well. Interestingly, a similar process happens to humans with sickle cell disease, so horse red blood cells can be used as a model system.

“During this time, I was introduced to Professor Kiaran Kirk and decided to take on a PhD he was offering to study malaria. I did my post-doc years at Oxford, too, before securing the Wellcome Trust award and coming to St George’s.”

Did you always know you wanted to be a scientist?

“My mum was a stage manager with an English degree and my dad was a dentist who was interested in engineering, so I took more after my father. I always enjoyed science at school and had some great teachers. The people I have met through my education and work in science have guided me through my career and inspired me to keep at it. I like the freedom of academia – you can pursue your own interests and it’s great to be able to discuss your ideas with other scientists.”

Why St George’s?

“I chose to come to St George’s because when you apply for a career development award from the Wellcome Trust, you are encouraged to change the institution you are working in. I had heard of Professor Sanjeev Krishna’s work on malaria at St George’s and knew that the university’s research groups were well known for their use of molecular biology. This was of particular interest to me as I hadn’t done much molecular biology at Oxford.”

Why malaria research?

“When I made the decision to specialise in malaria research, to some degree, it closed the opportunity to work directly in industry as there isn’t much interest in it from a commercial perspective. To move into industry, I would have had to change fields to something high profile such as cancer or heart disease.
“Around 2009/10, the EU withdrew its funding for antimalarial drug development and committed itself to looking at vaccines. I took the opportunity to switch focus and look more into diagnostics as there were more funding opportunities. I got involved with a large EU project to develop next generation point-of-care malaria diagnostics. We wanted to take the lab to the bedside, particularly in underdeveloped countries. It’s an extremely rewarding way to spend your time.”

What advice would you give to those considering a career in scientific research?

“Be aware of how you are progressing your career – be sure to strike the balance between being productive in the laboratory and producing good papers/grants. I advise PhD students to pick an up-and-coming area of research and work with a leader in the field so that they can really make an impact early on. My advice for post-doctoral researchers would be to publish papers and publish well.”

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

“What drives me is wanting to produce good science. I am much more driven by that than I am by aiming for a particular post – if you are producing great work, then the result of that should be career progression. But really, the goal for all early career researchers is to secure a tenured position and I am no different.”

What are your interests outside of work?

“My children keep me busy as all three are competitive swimmers. Most mornings, I am up at 5am to take them to the pool. I spend far too many of my weekends at swimming competitions and have even become a qualified official, having reached the level at which I can start races.”