|TSA Funded Research – An interview with Dr Andrew Tee, Cardiff University|
|Over the years, Dr Andrew Tee has been a stalwart of the TSC research community, and has made important contributions to our understanding of the biological mechanisms involved in TSC and laid the foundations for development in drugs to treat the condition.
In 2018, the TSA funded him to undertake a new PhD studentship ‘Targeting the Ref1/STAT3 axis to treat Tuberous Sclerosis’.
• Please describe your academic and career history to date?
I studied at Dundee University as an undergraduate (Biochemistry), and then as a PhD student working on mTOR and cell growth control. With this expertise, I moved to Harvard as a post-doctoral researcher (at the beginning of 2000), where I discovered the connection between Tuberous Sclerosis Complex and mTOR, which ultimately lead the successful clinical use of mTOR inhibitors for the treatment of TSC many years later. I then returned to the UK, with the intention to develop a dedicated and focused research lab on TSC. I am now a Reader at Cardiff University, and have systematically built up a small but stable research group that explores new therapies for TSC. I should say that I have thoroughly enjoyed every stage of my career to date and consider myself very lucky.
• What motivates you to work in the area of TSC research?
TSC gives me research focus and a passion to work. I am a typical nerdy inquisitive scientist who needs to solve problems, and I have a level of scientific stubbornness and tenacity that drives me. I was born like this; both my parents are scientists. The highlight of my year is definitely when I can share my new research findings to TSC-families at meetings or conferences, which motivates me to get back in the lab to find out the unknown.
• You are based at Cardiff University an important centre for TSC Research. Could you tell us about the important work undertaken there especially around furthering our understanding the mechanisms involved in TSC?
Being part of a larger TSC research team is vital for the success of our work through collaboration and mutual interest to improve the lives of TS-patients. This helps speed up the develop of our lab-based discoveries, transforming them into something more meaningful for patients in the future. We have uncovered new vulnerabilities of TSC-diseased cells that has given us new therapy options, which will be further developed within the collective TSC research team in the years to come.
• Please could you tell us about the work you will undertake as part of your TSA funded PhD Studentship.
I am particularly excited by this line of work. We think that TSC2 (the gene that is mutated and causes TSC) has a new function to repress a cell’s ability to move and invade. The pathology of these TSC2 mutations is linked to abnormal brain development, seizures and the formation of blood vessels in tumours. Importantly, we have a new drug that is in clinical development that restores this function, which is the basis of this TSA funded PhD studentship. In this project, we will better understand this new disease process linked to TSC and build evidence to support the use of a new drug therapy. I’d like to highlight that 5 years of funding through the TS Association has helped develop this project, so we would not be where we are without the continued support from the TS Association.
• Could you tell us about the PhD student who will be working with you?
We are very fortunate to have Mr Jesse Champion working on this TSC-research PhD project. 2 years ago, Jesse carried out a year placement with us working on TSC-related rare genetic disorder called Birt-Hogg-Dube (BHD), where patients have increased risk of obtaining kidney cancer. In our lab, we have successfully applied our BHD research to better understand TSC-disease mechanisms. Jesse is already trained in lab techniques on tumour growth control, and is keen to start this new project on TSC and drug therapy. Jesse is a wonderful addition to my small focused TSC research team, and is always a pleasure to work alongside him in the lab.
• Could you tell us a bit more about yourself outside of the lab and science?
I have a young family that is keeping me busy outside of my lab. My lab is a way for me to get some peace and quiet from the busy life I have with 2 young daughters (a 6 and a 3-year old). My family is so important to me, involving ‘big adventures’ exploring outside with the kids or taking them to do activities they enjoy such as swimming or getting ice-cream. I was never a big fan of pink and glitter, but is hard not to like it with two girls who like anything cute and pink.
• Finally, do you have anything you would wish to say to the UK TSC community?
It is an honour to carry out research that is directly linked to TSC, self-rewarding and beneficial on multiple levels. My scientific journey has been exciting to-date. A journey I wish to pursue for the rest of my academic career, where I rally like-minded scientists that I either train or collaborate with in my pursuit for a cure.