Dr Paul Genever
Dr Paul Genever is a senior lecturer in the department of biology at the University of York, and head of the York site of the Arthritis Research UK Tissue Engineering Centre.
What does your work involve?
I want to find out how cells in the skeleton work. My laboratory spends a lot of time examining specialised cells that are located in bone marrow and have stem cell-like features, which enable them to produce bone and cartilage. We are interested in the signals that instruct this kind of behaviour. It also appears that there are different sorts of stem cells; some are much better at making bone and cartilage than others, so we want to be able to separate these out. This will help us find new ways to aid tissue repair in conditions such as osteoarthritis. We also experiment with different systems to analyse stem cell behaviour, for example by growing the cells as 3D spheres (instead of using plastic Petri dishes) to produce skeletal ‘micro-tissues’. We collaborate with engineers and material scientists to produce 3D support scaffolds that in many ways mimic the architecture of the human joint and may be used to grow living tissue replacements.
How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?
Since the late 1990s. I was awarded an Arthritis Research UK career development fellowship, which was a significant step towards my first academic appointment, and I have received other support since then. I am currently part of the Arthritis Research UK Tissue Engineering Centre and a new project grant started in April this year.
What’s the most important thing you have found out in the past 12 months? And why?
We have found a way to rejuvenate cells taken from older patients. Old cells that have stopped dividing appear to grow once more and are better equipped to generate new tissues. It is quite remarkable. I am pleased to say that the first use of this new technique will be to test if it can reactivate stem cells to generate better cartilage for patients with osteoarthritis, which will be done as part of the new Arthritis Research UK award.
What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?
I hope it will provide deep scientific understanding directly related to new treatments for patients.
What do you do in a typical day?
You always have to keep an eye on what’s round the corner – tomorrow, next week, next month (usually deadlines, presentations, meetings etc) – and what you need to do to prepare for them. I will talk about research with people in the lab – in the corridor, at the bench and in one-to-one supervisory meetings. I don’t get the opportunity to do much lab work myself, so I really enjoy getting as close to the work as possible. Eureka moments do not happen every day, but sharing the thrill of an important new research finding with a graduate student or postdoctoral researcher is hard to beat. During term time there will probably be some teaching (lectures, tutorials, practicals) and/or student-related work (supervision, admin roles, committee meetings, exam setting and the dreaded marking!). There could be a grant to review, usually reports to read and always be that paper I need to finish writing. In between that...just finding time to think.
What is your greatest research achievement?
I hope it is yet to come. The aim is to keep improving, and we have made some very exciting discoveries recently.
Why did you choose to do this work?
Biology was my favourite subject at school and always on the human/biomedical side, so I stayed with it as long as I could. I became absorbed with cells and how they worked collectively as the architects and builders of body tissues. The skeleton is a beautiful example of this, but it does sometimes fail. For me, this provided an opportunity to ask scientific questions that were relevant to human disorders affecting millions of people.
Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?
Yes. That must be the goal. We want to provide better understanding and create new knowledge about the workings of the skeleton, which will underpin new treatments for diseases that affect it. With the creation of the Arthritis Research UK Tissue Engineering Centre, we now have a pipeline to translate findings we make at the cell level to patients in the clinic.
What would you do if you weren’t a researcher?
Play in midfield for Leeds United (I can dream…).
All too often, I’ll be at Elland Road for Leeds home games, which has been hard work in recent years, especially on a cold, wet night in January. Great for letting off some steam though. I have a few guitars and I’ll play whenever I can. I am married, with three children, a Labrador, a cat and, after a long relationship, my 1974 MG Midget and I will be separating this summer.