Posted on 22 March by Dr Andy Tee (Scientific Advisor for TS Association, Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Cancer and Genetics, Cardiff University).
When I look back, my scientific journey into Tuberous Sclerosis research has been built purely on luck. But as my mentor (Prof. John Blenis) from Harvard always told me during my golden-years as a care-free post-doctoral scientist, ‘you build your luck with hard work’. I have always been a scientific ‘geek’, which is probably because both my mum and dad are scientists and are equally as geeky as me. For instance, my dad loves nothing better than a bit of light reading about ‘String Theory’ or ‘Quarks’ at Christmas time with a glass of port, which apparently is meant to be the new rage in Quantum field theory and time travel. I still don’t know what a ‘Quark’ is, but I digress. As both parents are science teachers in biology and chemistry, I suppose their influence (as well as my stubbornness and scientific curiosity) led me onto a Biochemistry course at my home town at Dundee University (Scotland). This naturally led onto a Ph.D course working on mammalian Target of Rapamycin (mTOR) with my equally as enthusiastic Ph.D mentor Prof. Chris Proud, where we found some pretty cool stuff. Stuff that my parents and even my wife (she is a scientist too) thought was interesting and cool. I did not know it then, but all these positive influences paved my scientific career and kept my interest burning.
Photo of Andy Tee: First author on THE landmark paper that identified the role of TSC1 & 2 in the mTOR pathway.
The work I personally carried out in John Blenis’s lab (Harvard University) was fast and furious, but importantly a highly enjoyable experience. I also became addicted to the American way of life that included drinking a lot of coffee and donuts – I did gain a little weight. However, I digress again…. The research was effectively fast, and was due to the close collaborations that I forged through my mentor during my time in Boston.
I am pleased to say that to this day, I still have very close ties with these Tuberous Sclerosis research labs in the USA. It is this spirit of joining together as a bigger collective force that is quite distinctive within the Tuberous Sclerosis research community. If it were not for this sharing mentality, we would undoubtedly be further behind in what we know today with regards to Tuberous Sclerosis.
So what did I do during my golden-times as a care-free postdoctoral scientist? Well, I discovered that the Tuberous Sclerosis genes functioned by inhibiting the cell growth signal that is governed by mammalian target of rapamycin. This was hugely cool - I was ever so buoyant - I was the happiest geek during this time and my research bubble felt impervious. Everything just fell into place. All the past experience gained on mammalian target of rapamycin and tinkering will mammalian cell lines as a Ph.D student was pivotal for how fluid my line of investigation was, and is thanks to my mentor Prof. Chris Proud (University of Dundee). While, my mentor at Harvard (Prof. John Blenis) helped drive me forward during these good scientific years and we positively ‘bounced off one another’. The work ‘we collectively’ did, has been hugely cited in other researchers work and are considered as landmark papers. Importantly, this work lead too many clinical trials in Tuberous Sclerosis patients using mammalian target of rapamycin inhibitors. This is just the beginning, there are many much more unseen wonders that we geeky scientists are pursuing, not for fortune but rather because we love it.