Molly Stevens FIMMM (Profile)
I have followed quite an unusual path academically from pharmaceutical sciences and biophysics to bioengineering, with considerable time spent travelling and performing voluntary work in Southeast Asia and South America. My personal motivation for the research I do now is in part fuelled by a strong desire to help patients and impact on human health.
When I was completing my PhD in single molecule biophysics, I attended a lecture which showed a photograph of a four-year-old boy with terminal liver failure. That picture made me switch fields to biomaterials and regenerative medicine. Where I work, at Imperial College London, research encompasses more fundamental and translational goals. The techniques my group and I develop have the potential to fix failing organs in very young people, as well as detect infectious disease much more quickly in global health applications.
I was appointed a lecturer at Imperial in 2004, became Research Director for Biomedical Material Sciences in the Institute of Biomedical Engineering in 2007, and full professor the following year. I am also the Chief Scientist in a start-up company from Imperial that I helped to found, RepRegen. Its success (the first product has secured approval for human use and heals bone 68% better than competitors) was recognised at the pan-European ACES Academic Entrepreneur awards last year. A human clinical trial will begin in 2011.
During my postdoctoral in tissue engineering in the Chemical Engineering Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I led work on tissue engineering of new bone of unprecedented amounts and co-founded a USA-based spin-out company.
Research group at Imperial College London
At Imperial I lead a large research group of students and postdoctors/fellows with backgrounds as diverse as biomedical sciences, materials science, chemistry, engineering, medicine and physics. I consider it a complete privilege to be able to work every day on exciting challenges with a fantastic team of people. The group is exploiting specific biomolecular recognition and self-assembly mechanisms to create dynamic nanomaterials, biosensors and drug delivery systems.
Recent efforts in peptide-functionalised nanoparticles for enzyme biosensing have enabled the most sensitive facile (cheap, colourimetric and portable) enzyme detection to date, with a host of applications ranging from cancer to global health issues, such as early HIV and Leishmaniasis detection. This is important as there are not enough costeffective solutions for global health problems and the need is incredibly high.
I suppose in part stemming from my background in biophysics, I take inspiration from the complex self-assembly processes that occur in nature to develop materials that can be dynamically controlled under physiological conditions. Since the materials can respond to subtle changes in the body, they could have tremendous potential in future nanodevices, biosensors and drug delivery systems.
My group’s success is due to the wonderful people that have joined it. Its multidisciplinary nature makes it an exciting place to research and make rapid advances. Our work has won awards from different fields, including the 2010 Rosenhain Medal for excellence in materials science from IOM3.
I would advise young researchers to work extremely hard on something important and original and do what they really enjoy. You should not be scared to take on challenges. I strongly encourage more women in academia to feel that they can balance their work role with a family – anything is possible if you try hard enough. Another key consideration is to be sure to select the most excellent people to work for you – this gets a lot easier with time.