Megan Thomas talks to Molly Stevens, John Black Professor at Oxford University and Research Director for Biomedical Materials at Imperial College London.
MT: Where do you work, and can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?
MS: I am going through an exciting transition period. After a terrific and highly productive era at Imperial College London, I am transferring my labs to the University of Oxford as John Black Professor of Bionanoscience to work across the Kavli Institute for NanoScience Discovery, the Institute of Biomedical Engineering and the Institute of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine. My group will be established at the interface between medicine and engineering where we will continue to take a multidisciplinary approach to develop cutting-edge nanomaterial-based technologies for disease diagnostics and therapeutic delivery. In this next stage, we will be focusing on high quality innovations as well as catalysing clinical translation with a global health agenda.
MT: What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
MS: I’m very proud of the terrific team that surrounds me today which has grown from a single researcher (me!) to a vibrant international network of talented scientists, entrepreneurs and educators. It’s very exciting to see the discoveries we’ve made in the lab now moving closer to clinical impact too.
MT: What industry-wide drug discovery breakthrough has had the most impact on your research?
MS: We are seeing a revolution in the nanomedicine field with the development of lipid nanoparticle (LNP)-based drug delivery platforms. From the early liposomal anticancer drug Doxil to the more recent game changing mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, the use of LNP formulations is now expanding exponentially. This development and other developments in the nanomedicine field have highlighted the unmet need for nanocharacterisation techniques that provide a deep insight into single particle physicochemistry which is impossible to achieve with conventional bulk analysis methods. To fill this gap, we went on to design SPARTA, a new instrument based on Raman spectroscopy that uses laser optical trapping to analyse single nanoparticles in an automated, high-throughput and label-free manner. This transformative approach allows us to determine key formulation parameters, investigate bio-interactions such as protein corona formation, reveal hidden batch heterogeneities, elucidate structure-function relationships, and acquire critical information for quality control and optimised manufacturing processes. This innovation supports our goal of accelerating the translation of live saving nanomedicines and aims to find broad applicability in the pharmaceutical industry and in research.
MT: What has been the best piece of career advice you have received?
MS: A great piece of advice that has stayed with me is to do something you enjoy, reaching for high quality and impactful outcomes that will have a beneficial impact in the world. This has been a central tenet throughout my career.
MT: What advice would you offer someone looking to follow in your footsteps?
MS: I would pass on the same advice I received, and I would also add that young scientists should seek generous mentors and not be afraid of learning challenging new areas.
MT: If you could make everyone read one book, article or academic paper, what would it be and why?
MS: I would probably suggest that people read lots of very varied books as I’m an avid reader. I recently read A Man for all Markets from Edward O Thorp. Here, he delves into his personal story (from Maths Professor to blackjack analyst, author and Hedge Fund manager) and his fascinating views of how logical and mathematical thinking can help us predict seemingly random activities from gambling to financial markets. It is a truly fascinating read.