SCOTLAND HAS AN INCREDIBLE HISORY OF LIFE SCIENCE INNOVATION AND DISCOVERY, BUT IS SCOTLAND POISED TO BECOME THE GLOBAL LEADER OF THE EXCITING NEW DISCIPLINE KNOWN AS 'PRECISION MEDICINE'?
Scotland is a country with a global reputation for discovery, invention, research and innovation. In Scotland we have a vibrant, international academic community, with research teams pioneering new ideas at the forefront of their subject areas. This makes Scotland an ideal place to hold international business events - international delegates can connect with passionate local experts, they can visit research facilities, project sites and innovation centres and see first-hand the world leading work being done in Scotland.
Our Sector Experts are here to introduce you to some of Scotland's bright minds, to give you an insight into their work, to find out their motivations and to learn more about what makes Scotland the perfect destination for business events.
MEET PROFESSOR DAME ANNA DOMINICZAK, REGIUS PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF GLASGOW
Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Glasgow, has had a long and distinguished career, with an early focus on cardiovascular disease and hypertension eventually paving the way for Dame Anna's emergence as a leader of Scotland's 'precision medicine' sector, a sector Dame Anna and others believe can revolutionise how we deliver medicine not just in Scotland, but globally. Scotland has an incredible legacy in life science innovation, including being heavily involved in early Statin trials to help prevent coronary disease, a field of work Dame Anna is closely involved with. With a large and active academic base with close connections to life science businesses, Scotland continues to advance science, to develop and implement clinical solutions, and the future is very exciting indeed.
"I am a clinician and a scientist, or clinician scientist you might say! Most of my career I have tried very hard to combine research and clinical practice in parallel. Since my early training my interest has been in high blood pressure, hypertension and cardiovascular prevention, and I still do a high blood pressure clinic. In recent years I became interested in precision medicine and this has been the main area that I have applied for funding and developed over the past few years. At the beginning of the covid pandemic, I successfully led the establishment of a diagnostic covid testing laboratory, the first and only Lighthouse Laboratory in Scotland, based in Glasgow. It is currently processing up to 85,000 samples per day, which is something we wouldn't have believed or thought possible in March 2020. There is now a network of Lighthouse Laboratories across the UK and the lab in Glasgow, hosted by the University of Glasgow, is the 3rd busiest in the country. It was amazing, colleagues donated equipment from the University, I had over 800 volunteers just from the University's life sciences College, the army brought in equipment from other parts of the country - it was uplifting to see that sort of response. It's incredible, we now have robots & automation! It has been a journey that I hope will set us on a completely new way of doing diagnostics in this country post covid".
What is your role at the University of Glasgow?
My role within the University of Glasgow is Regius Chair of Medicine, which is an ancient chair. I am the first woman ever to hold this professorship. Until recently I was also Vice Principal and Head of the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences. I am currently seconded to the Department of Health and Social Care to lead the Lighthouse Laboratories across the country, which has been very interesting. It grew from starting up the Glasgow lab, and now I look after the entire network.
I also have many other roles, as one does! I lead the Journal for The American Heart Association and I am Editor-in-Chief of the Hypertension journal. I work internationally advising CERN, at institutes in Germany and France, and I was asked recently to chair the advisory board for my formal alma mater in Gdansk, Poland, which will be advising them in broad areas of research across cardiovascular, cancer, metabolic and basic fundamental life sciences, I am very proud of this.
What is your drive, where does your passion for medicine and research come from?
I think medicine, but not just medicine, it's medicine combined with science that has been a driving force for me. Even as a student I joined the research society because I believe that medicine is not static, you need to keep improving. Innovation and improvement are really the life blood of medicine, you can't stay where you are. For me cardiovascular medicine, high blood pressure, and now precision medicine, drive me because I believe they fulfil what every doctor wants, that is improving the life of individual patients, but also to have broader societal implications, because innovation in life sciences brings new industry, builds new industry. I believe precision medicine is building a new industry in the UK, and by doing so will create new jobs and economic growth and this is so important. Perhaps now during covid and post covid, this is more important than ever before. But it has been something that has driven me and my team for a long time. It is good to do things for individuals, but medicine at its best also helps entire communities to be healthier and wealthier.
You are incredibly passionate about 'precision medicine', and its potential impact for patients in Scotland, as a new industry, what is it all about?
With precision medicine the idea is to think broadly, and to utilise all the molecular tools that have been developed to diagnose diseases, and to treat these diseases earlier and therefore better and cheaper and with better outcomes for patients. The triple helix of precision medicine is the idea of the NHS, academia and industry working together, creating tailored medical interventions, and creating a new industry and a new excellence.
My colleagues and I from the University of Glasgow worked with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to publish a precision medicine audit for Scotland in 2019. This audit showed that Scotland is perfectly networked and has the right excellences to lead on precision medicine. It showed that Scotland could save huge sums for the NHS and make major improvements in delivering health to the nation. It highlighted the potential to collaborate and lead internationally, selling the concept, creating opportunities for our SMEs and larger enterprises.
This audit led to a grant to create a Precision Medicine Living Laboratory. These grants have a levelling agenda aimed at making places which don't have a lot of industry stronger, and so we proposed the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Govan as a place that could benefit. The aim has been to implement in a very practical way the triple helix of precision medicine - academia, NHS and industry - into our NHS, with Glasgow and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital leading the trial before spreading to the rest of the county. One example that is already being progressed is pharmacogenomics for people who are over 65 years old. This process looks at people who are on multiple drugs, and testing is done to be able to select the right drug for the right patient at the right time, based on their genetics. Pharmacogenomics evaluates a person's genetic response to a drug, so it is not one size fits all prescriptions, we tailor the prescription based on the patient. We believe that this could result in millions of savings for the NHS, and this is money that can be reinvested in other areas for patients. The data can be shared with industry to develop new drugs, so we learn and develop together. We believe that it will really make a lasting change to the way we practice medicine in Scotland. International recognition for this work has come from the President of the National Academy of Medicine in the US, Professor Victor Dzau, who has said Scotland could be the Silicon Valley of precision medicine.
What has been your involvement with associations, and bringing events to Scotland?
Most recently I successfully managed to bid for the largest high blood pressure meeting in the world. This would have brought the International and European societies of Hypertension together in Glasgow for a joint meeting, with a predicted attendance of over 3000 delegates. I was able to draw on my work with both societies which I have been part of for many years, and I am a past president of the European Society of Hypertension. This conference was to be for 2020, but unfortunately Covid spoiled this, and we will now have a virtual meeting in April 2021. It was really interesting that the organisers chose to stay with us, they didn't decide to take it away and do it differently, it is still a Scottish meeting, and a Glasgow meeting, I am still president of the meeting. Although it will be virtual, it will help the city, it will help Scotland, and we have already had great publicity. The reason we can attract these large meetings to Scotland is because of the excellence of our academics who bring the meetings, because we are engaged internationally with associations and with partners in academia, and because Scotland and Scottish colleagues have always been a part of international organisations, you always see Scottish leaders there, and that allows you to attract meetings to Scotland.
I must say that I really loved working with the conference centre and convention bureau in Glasgow, who are fantastic ambassadors for Scotland. When I went to bid for the joint Hypertension meeting in Athens colleagues from Glasgow came with me, I wasn't bidding alone, I had a team with me from the city, so I think that network of support and togetherness has been the key to success.