Breaking Barriers: Leigh Stoddart reflects on #IWD2024

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Dr. Leigh Stoddart, Principal Scientist at Excellerate Bioscience and newly announced Fellow for the British Pharmacological Society (BPS), reflects on her career journey on International Women’s Day 2024. From her undergrad days at Unilever to her current role, Leigh's passion for receptor pharmacology shines. She discusses her role at Excellerate, the significance of her BPS fellowship, and the importance of International Women's Day in science.

Q: Tell us about yourself and your experience

As part of my undergraduate Biochemistry degree, I spent a year at Unilever’s research labs where I was involved in projects looking for ways to reduce oral malodour. Although this wasn’t the best smelling project, I loved being in the lab and setting up new assays. Straight after my undergraduate degree, I undertook my PhD at the University of Glasgow in Prof Graeme Milligan’s lab where I was studying the molecular pharmacology of fatty acid G protein-coupled receptors. 

After my PhD, I moved to the University of Nottingham to work on the characterisation and use of fluorescent ligands to study adenosine receptor pharmacology. This project started me off with my long-standing interest in the use of fluorescent ligands in both academic and industry research. In 2021, I joined Excellerate Bioscience to support their receptor pharmacology team.

Q: What does your role at Excellerate involve?

As one of the Principal Scientists at Excellerate, my main role is to use my experience in receptor pharmacology to deliver the highest quality data for our clients. To achieve this, I work with an excellent team of scientists to design the experiments and assays they perform in our labs. Myself and our CSO, Nick Holliday, are both passionate about our junior scientists understanding the pharmacological data they generate and pharmacological theory. Having this understanding helps us to provide what I believe to be as world-class pharmacological data to our clients.

Q: What does receiving the BPS fellowship mean to you personally and professionally?

Being invited to become a Fellow of the British Pharmacological Society in recognition of my contribution to molecular pharmacology research was a real honour. As I have recently moved from academic to industry research, it was especially fulfilling to be recognised for my continued contribution to the field. On a personal level, becoming a Fellow alongside several previous colleagues was particularly special.

Q: How does International Women's Day hold significance for you, especially in the context of your career in science?

To me, International Women’s Day allows us to celebrate both the everyday and extraordinary contributions that women make to our lives and world but also to recognise the challenges that still face women in all walks of life. In science, it is important to acknowledge that there is still a lack of women in senior leadership positions, and International Women’s Day gives me time to pause to reflect on this and that as a woman in a leadership position being a visible female scientist role model is important to the next generation of female scientists.

Q: What excites you the most about working within drug discovery research?

It may sound like a cliché, but using my skills and knowledge to advance drug discovery research is a real motivator to my work.

Q: Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of work? Tell us about them!

I have two young children, so they take up a lot of my outside-of-work time! I have recently learnt how to crochet and enjoy putting this new skill to use in making science-themed crochet toys such as crochet Gilson pipettes and bacteriophages.

Q: What's your favourite science-related book, movie, or podcast? Why do you recommend it?

My favourite science-related book is ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot. Immortalised cell lines form the cornerstone of our in vitro pharmacology work, and this book explores the development of the first cell line, HeLa, and the ethics around the use of human tissue for profit. Both aspects of the book were eye-opening and thought-provoking – I recommend this book to anyone who has ever done any tissue culture.”

Q: If you could make one bold prediction about the future of scientific research, what would it be?

We are only beginning to see the impact of gene editing techniques such as CRISPR on drug discovery. The development of new and more efficient techniques to knock in and -out specific genes will transform target validation and open up a range of new targets for drug development.


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