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Sergio Padilla-Parra 5 min with banner ;

5 minutes with Sergio Padilla-Parra

Dr Sergio Padilla-Parra is a Senior Lecturer affiliated with the Department of Infectious Diseases, School of Immunology & Microbial Sciences, and the Randall Centre for Cell & Molecular Biophysics, School of Basic & Medical Biosciences. We took 5 minutes with Sergio to learn more about his career and life outside of work.

Sergio Padilla-Parra

Briefly, tell us about your background and career up to this point?

I have an interdisciplinary background. I did my PhD at Paris Diderot University (Paris 7) on biophotonics (2009) and a postdoc at Emory University in Atlanta (2012), on applying light microscopy to retrovirus entry. After this, I became a principal investigator at the University of Oxford (2013) with the idea of studying HIV entry applying advanced light microscopy approaches. I have just taken up a Faculty position at King’s to continue my research in both areas of biophysics and virus entry and fusion.

Can you tell us more about your new appointment as Senior Lecturer?

This is a great opportunity as this appointment has a double affiliation with the Department of Infectious Diseases and the Randall Centre for Cell & Molecular Biophysics. This means that my interdisciplinary approach fits with King’s vision of pushing advanced photonics to better understand virus entry. Moreover, at Guy’s Hospital, we will have access to primary cells and translational research. We are installing a microscope in Biosafety Level 3 capable of single molecule detection - which is amazing and risky, but also opens new possibilities for my research and my colleagues in the Department!

Do you have any current projects that you would like to tell us about?

I bring my European Research Council Consolidator award to King’s which is funded with around £2M. Thanks to this, we will build up an interdisciplinary group able to understand mechanistically how HIV-1 engages with the host at the first stages of infection. We will also test how different families of antibodies are able to disrupt the process of entry and therefore prevent infection. Interestingly, these approaches can also be applied to other enveloped viruses like SARS CoV-2 or Influenza, for example.

Where is your research heading in the next five years?

We aim to become more translational and show that advanced biophotonics can offer very important information on the mechanistic aspects of virus infection. This is a unique opportunity to interact with clinical researchers in the Department of Infectious Diseases and adapt the methodologies developed at the Randall Centre for Cell & Molecular Biophysics to be more efficient and reach solutions for important problems related to infection.

What is a typical working day like for you and how has this been affected by the current pandemic?

Normally I would go to the lab, talk to my team, help out with the microscope(s) during acquisition and analysis, prepare lectures, analyse data, and eventually write research papers. I also meet with other colleagues and go to formal meetings.

For me, and I assume for many others, the pandemic has been the perfect storm, as it coincided with me moving from Oxford to London (both the lab and myself). I still have two students and one postdoc still in Oxford. During this time, I have done a lot of admin work to start recruiting the new team, bought a new microscope, wrote risk assessments, and managed articles that are under review. I really hope that before the new year I can be full time in London with my small team trying to understand how SARS CoV-2 fuses with the host. But to be honest, I am being very selfish. For so many people the pandemic has been dramatic, so to have the luxury of starting a new lab and being around talented colleagues in the Department of Infectious diseases dealing with the science behind testing, and doing COVID-19 research under these conditions, is very impressive.

What do you do with your time outside of academia?

I try to spend as much time as I can with my family. Read books on the philosophy of science (Khun, Russell) and on pedagogics. I have just discovered Adler and Dreikurs, and I try to read as much as I can on their vision for child education and social relationships. I also love watching movies when I can. "El Hoyo" (The Platform) was the last movie I really enjoyed - an amazing allegory on our neo-liberal society!

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

None... or perhaps the one Henry Miller gave in one of his great books - “Do your best and let the providence do the rest”.


Describe yourself in a few words… curious, eclectic...

Your favourite meal… My grandma’s soup

Your favourite movie… Harper (starring Paul Newman). Although the one with Bogart is also good (The Big Sleep), I love the version with Newman. By the way, The Big Lebowski is another version of Harper in my opinion…

In this story

Sergio Padilla-Parra

Sergio Padilla-Parra

Reader in Virus Imaging and Biophotonics

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