Dr Simon Draper to give third Star Alumni Lecture
Celebrating the contribution that Oxford Biochemistry graduates make to the UK and international biomedical research community, former student Dr Simon Draper will give the third ‘Star Alumni Seminar’ on Monday 18 November.
Dr Simon Draper
The seminar series brings in newly-independent researchers who studied as undergraduates in the department to talk about their work and career. It is aimed at current undergraduates, DPhil students and all those who make valuable contributions to undergraduate teaching including research and teaching laboratory staff.
Simon is an investigator at the Jenner Institute working on malaria vaccine development. He finished his degree in 2002 with his interests focused on human health and disease. Looking for DPhil places in which he could use his knowledge to address this area, he took a place with Professor Adrian Hill working on malaria vaccine development.
It turned out to be a very good choice. ‘I Ioved working in this area and really enjoyed the department,’ says Simon, who embarked on a new approach targeting malarial infection in the blood as the focus of his DPhil.
The project was so successful that he has built his career in Oxford on it. A Junior Research Fellowship (JRF) at Merton College straight after his DPhil was followed by a MRC Career Development Award in 2010 which started him down the road of independence.
Simon is now a ‘Jenner Investigator’ and University Research Lecturer at the Jenner Institute in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, leading a group of 10 researchers.
His achievements were recognised again this year with the award of a Research Prize Fellowship from the Lister Institute, one of only 4 awarded.
Simon points out that the translational focus of the Jenner Institute has enabled him to pursue the full clinical reach of his work. The infrastructure of the Institute is set up for both vaccine development and manufacture. Clinical trials are also conducted, within the department and at units in the field which are linked through the Department of Tropical Medicine. From his DPhil research Simon generated a new form of vaccine which he took into a series of clinical trials in Oxford.
Vaccine development continues as the main focus of his research, with an active pre-clinical programme feeding into a clinical programme. His interests and approaches have broadened over the past 10 years as demonstrated by the work supported by the Lister Research Prize. This has catalysed a link with structural biologists, in particular Dr Matt Higgins in the Biochemistry Department.
‘We’ll be looking at the human antibody response to vaccines we’ve made in order to understand better what are the best types of antibody to induce,’ Simon explains. The project focuses on the malarial protein RH5 which interacts with red blood cells and appears to be critical for parasite entry into the cells. Simon and Matt will be taking a structural biology approach to understanding the response to a first generation vaccine against RH5 with the aim of trying to improve the vaccine.
Looking back at the Biochemistry course, Simon says that he especially enjoyed the lab work. ‘It’s very different when you get into the lab and make discoveries for yourself,’ he comments. He had several opportunities to do this, during a summer internship in Germany and during his Part II project with Professor Chris Norbury at the WIMM in Oxford.
A University Teaching Award in 2010 recognising the excellent supervision Simon provides to postgraduate students indicates that he fosters that same enthusiasm for research within his group.
Professor Louis Mahadevan who organises the Star Alumni seminar series is keen to hear from recent alumni starting their own labs who would like to contribute to the series.