I Am Endocrinology: Dogs, Cats, and the Pituitary

ROB FOWKES (ENDO Council elections)

I wasn’t really very aware of my own … hormones, that is. But by the time I was studying human biology at Oxford Brookes University, I knew that hormones were what I found most interesting, probably because of a combination of having a gun-toting cell physiology professor and a Chilean pharmacologist with a wonderful voice who mesmerized me with talk of catecholamine signaling.

The first bit of endocrine knowledge that I genuinely remember retaining was during an oral exam for my undergraduate dissertation (on oocyte maturation); that was the moment I learned (and subsequently remembered) that GnRH is a decapeptide. That afternoon I also (sneakily) learned that I had already passed all my final exams well enough to get the PhD project I had been offered at the University of Bristol, which was nice.

My PhD advisor, Prof. Craig McArdle, was already an established authority in GnRH signaling, and he suggested that I work on the potential interaction between GnRH and C-type natriuretic peptide (CNP) in the pituitary. At my interview, he asked me if I knew what CNP was, and I promptly showed my ignorance by confusing it for one of the ribonucleotides rather than the peptide hormone that it is. Fortunately, Craig was very tolerant and supportive, and my three years in his group were extremely productive and a lot of fun. Being situated within Prof. Stafford Lightman’s Department of Medicine meant I was in daily contact with lots of brilliant endocrine researchers, so I was constantly being bombarded with updates on stress physiology, IGF signaling, pituitary adenoma formation, and glucocorticoid action. And being the poor graduate student that I was, volunteering for clinical trials was a great way to supplement income and experience the amazing capacity of insulin to lower blood glucose. To 1 mmol/L…which was not so nice.

My love for endocrinology only becomes stronger; I start each endocrine course that I teach by telling the students that whether they realize it, they will have an endocrine response to my lectures (love, hate, boredom, nausea).

Having finished my PhD, I then migrated geographically to London, and anatomically to below the waist to spend a year working with Prof. Tony Michael at the Royal Free Hospital on ovarian prostaglandin production in IVF patients. Tony taught me the basics of steroid biochemistry and gave me my first opportunity to work with patient samples. But it was clear that I was missing the pituitary too much, and I subsequently applied for a post-doctoral position with Prof. Jacky Burrin at Barts Health NHS Trust and the Royal London Hospital. Jacky had learned her molecular biology with Larry Jameson while in Boston, and it was her I have to thank for teaching me not to digest my ligations or ligate my digestions. We spent four productive years examining the mechanisms by which Steroidogenic Factor-1 (SF-1) controlled the transcription of the glycoprotein hormone common α-subunit gene. Again, the Barts endocrine firm provided rich stimulation for a basic scientist, providing me with a much better understanding of rare disorders such as acromegaly and Cushing’s.

It was at this point that Jacky and the wonderful Prof. John Monson, suggested I leave the country; I like to think they were thinking of my career development rather than trying to get rid of me. The ‘Been-to-America’ degree was a tried and tested way for British post-docs to enhance their career profiles to help gain faculty appointments, and so I was extremely fortunate to be offered a position in Holly Ingraham’s group at UCSF. I was even more fortunate to be offered the position, because the day before I interviewed with Holly, England was playing Brazil in the quarter finals of the World Cup – this was during ENDO 2002 in San Francisco, and the time difference meant the kick-off was 11 p.m. I would like to say that I sensibly chose not to watch the game with 300 British endocrinologists and 10 Brazilian endocrinologists in Johnny Foley’s Irish bar, and instead had an early night to prepare for my interview. But I would be lying (and I lost my voice as England lost 2-1 to Brazil, which made my interview presentation somewhat challenging).

Endocrinology is the one clinical discipline with over-arching control over all health and disease — and I am privileged and proud to still be working in this field.

Working with Holly and her extremely talented group of grad students and post-docs on SF-1 was an amazing experience; I learned from Holly to ask far more adventurous scientific questions, and to use multiple models to answer them. My brief time with her group generated two Molecular Endocrinology papers and a faculty job offer at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), University of London.

And so I left my spiritual home of San Francisco to move back to London, and the RVC, where I have been ever since. I was fortunate with grant funding early on and established my Endocrine Signalling Group to examine the developmental and functional effects of CNP. Over the years, I have realized how to appreciate the humbling brilliance of the veterinary scientists and clinicians that I work with, and now my research has moved further towards translational comparative endocrinology; there is so much to learn from our dog and cat patients with pituitary disorders! My love for endocrinology only becomes stronger; I start each endocrine course that I teach by telling the students that whether they realize it, they will have an endocrine response to my lectures (love, hate, boredom, nausea). Endocrinology is the one clinical discipline with over-arching control over all health and disease — and I am privileged and proud to still be working in this field.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions and views of the author do not necessarily represent those of Endocrine News or the Endocrine Society.

If you would like to share your story with our readers around the world, contact Editor Mark A. Newman at mnewman@endocrine.org.

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