Posted by: Florence | November 22, 2011

The Prof speaks.

Professor Anthony Chalmers, Chair of Clinical Oncology in Glasgow, gives us an insight in to his career, with some inspiring thoughts.

    Where did you train as an undergraduate Professor Chalmers?

I was lucky enough to do my undergraduate training in Oxford. I enjoyed the pre-clinical course, and somewhat reluctantly undertook an intercalated BSc because everybody did one. I purposely avoided doing a lab based project because at the time I had a major aversion to anything involving microscopes and attention to detail. I stayed in Oxford for the clinical course and in retrospect would say that was the hardest part of my career so far. I didn’t cope very well with being a perpetual spare part and the lack of a defined role. So if you’re not enjoying your clinical training….. it gets better!

    What is your present position / role?

My current role is Chair of Clinical Oncology in Glasgow. It’s a fantastic position that combines a very well defined clinical practice (treating brain tumours) with running a lab that investigates novel ways of increasing the effectiveness of radiotherapy by interfering with DNA repair in tumour cells. I’m also responsible for developing radiotherapy research in Glasgow – this is perhaps the most challenging part of the job but it has brought me into contact with a huge number of interesting and talented clinicians, physicist, radiographers and scientists who have a huge amount to offer. I’m feeling a real sense of opportunity and excitement that is incredibly motivating.

    Have you worked abroad? If so what was your interest there?

I took a year off after passing MRCP and went to Los Angeles where I worked in a lab in UCLA. It was a useful taste of basic science and I enjoyed the independence, the absence of on-call and the opportunity to observe a very different way of practising medicine. As well as enjoying the LA lifestyle I learned some valuable lessons: (1) I never want to practice clinical medicine in the US system, (2) perhaps I could enjoy an academic career, (3) there are other ways to live and work than the British way and (4) how to rollerblade. Oh, and my research project there was investigating how integrin expression could influence trafficking of lymphocyte subsets around the body. Although I didn’t get very far during the year, it was an interesting insight into a process that might have significance in a variety of disease states including inflammatory bowel disease and HIV.

    What do you consider to be the most exciting development in your field at present?

Without a shadow of a doubt, the most exciting development in radiation oncology is the potential benefits to patients of combining radiotherapy with drugs that inhibit DNA repair. In particular there is growing evidence that a class of drugs called PARP inhibitors can increase the effects of radiotherapy on cancer cells without increasing the toxic effects on healthy tissues. For various reasons it has taken a long time for these drugs (which are extremely safe and non-toxic) to enter clinical trials in combination with radiotherapy. But I’m optimistic that this will happen in the next 12 months. This is a totally unbiased opinion.

    If you could chose one piece of art ( film / play / book / music) that you love which would it be? Can you say why?

One of the things that have kept me sane during my career has been my involvement in music. I’m quite a good classical pianist: this is a useful hobby for a busy medic because I can pursue it in the comfort of my own home, whenever I like. I also love to perform in amateur musical theatre, and have had some very memorable times rehearsing and performing with companies in London and Sussex. Since moving to Glasgow I haven’t had time or energy to find a new society to join, but I’m hoping there will be opportunities when I’m more settled. These hobbies have given me many very precious memories, for which I am extremely grateful. Some highlights include: ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at the Richmond Theatre and a studio production of Sondheim’s ‘Company’; performing at the open-air Minack Theatre that is built into a cliffside in Cornwall; and playing a medium-sized role in the world premiere of ‘Remember Remember’, a fantastic musical about the Gunpowder Plot. But to answer the original question, I recently played Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata with a very talented cellist who is also a very promising conductor. Although I played lots of wrong notes, it was an amazing experience that will live with me forever.

    What golden nugget of information advice would you give to a junior colleague?

This is the most difficult question. I never imagined I would end up being a senior academic in a major teaching hospital. And the prospect would have filled me with horror when I was at medical school. But now I’m here and I absolutely love it. So I guess I would say: be open to opportunities and when you find something you enjoy, give it everything you’ve got!

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