Impact talks to…Paul Scotting

Paul Scotting is an Associate Professor and Reader in Development and Cancer Biology in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, based in the QMC. As well as being a researcher, he also lectures to undergraduates on the development of the nervous system and cancer biology. 

Could you describe briefly what your area of research is?

My work crosses between the early embryonic development of vertebrates and gene control in cancer. I am particularly interested in the control of gene expression. My main focus at present is studying the role of DNA methylation (a biochemical process affecting DNA which can alter genes) in germ cell tumours (cancers that affect our germ cells: ovaries and sperm).

What first interested you in your chosen field?

I started in Cambridge as a developmental biologist, but working on development of the brain led me to become interested in how brain cells go wrong in brain tumours and begin to behave like embryonic (stem) cells. At that time the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre was just being established in the QMC so my research became focussed on children’s brain tumours.

Although I do still work on some brain tumours, I have moved on to study germ cell tumours. I am now equally interested in testicular germ cell tumours, the most common form of cancer in young men. The drive for this research is twofold, both arising from the fact that testicular germ cell tumours are highly malignant (spread around the body), but are also one of the most curable of human cancers.

Although curable, the treatment for these cancers is toxic and results in health problems in later life. If we can understand why these tumours are so responsive to chemotherapy, this information could be applied to the treatment of other more resistant forms of cancer.

I wanted to recommend a book explaining the broader issues of cancer to my student class, but I couldn’t find one. So I wrote one.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Over the past few years the main issue in continuing research in the UK is funding. Even when studying cancer, there are so many groups competing for limited money that the success rate of grant applications is generally well below 1 in 10, a situation that has become progressively worse over the past 10-20 years.

Could you tell us about your public engagement and communication work?

My interest in public engagement arose from my cancer biology teaching. I wanted to recommend a book explaining the broader issues of cancer to my student class, but I could not find one. So I wrote one, ‘Cancer: A Beginner’s Guide’. This has led me to write and talk to various groups to do the same thing; educate people about the real nature of cancer.

In addition, I am passionate about widening participation in higher education. I have just taken on the role of academic lead for widening participation in the newly formed School of Life Sciences. We are generating several new programmes to drive more interaction between members of the University (from students through to Professors) with school students in years 10-13 to help them aspire to and achieve entry to the best Universities.

I have enjoyed helping students to realise their potential and making learning something they do for enjoyment rather than just to get good grades.

What have you most enjoyed during your time here at Nottingham?

The most enjoyable part of my time in Nottingham has been in teaching and training many students. At undergraduate level, I have enjoyed helping students to realize their potential and ideally making learning something they do for enjoyment rather than just to get good grades. At PhD level, many of my PhD students have gone on to become my friends running their own research groups around the world, from the USA, through the Middle East and to the Far East.

Faiza Peeran

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