Professor Steven Sacks
Steven Sacks is Professor of Nephrology; Head of the Department of Nephrology & Transplantation and Director of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Centre for Transplantation at King's.
Tell us about your career
I have just put down Rose Tremain's Trespass from the Booker Prize long list - well constructed and suitably dark.
Favourite holiday destination
Tallinn is intriguing for its medieval architecture, choir culture and sheer ambition as a destination.
Proudest work moment
Seeing my work develop from target identification in laboratory studies to a viable therapeutic entity with, so far, promising results in man.
I enjoyed an inspirational beginning at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. There, during my PhD studies, I enjoyed the company of Nobel laureates.
The great Cesar Milstein had an important influence on my interest in immunology, as a tool for the pursuance of medicine as well as science. I continued as a Nephrology trainee in Cambridge then Oxford, influenced by two of the huge greats in transplantation – Roy Calne and Peter Morris.
At Oxford, I steered a path which subsequently took me to the complex world of complement, a dark area even for many immunologists. Although it is now fashionable to work on a branch of innate immunity – that part of the antimicrobial defence system with which we are all born – my work on the complement system in transplantation pre-empted this renaissance by several years.
Through the study of transplantation, I have worked out, with colleagues, how the complement system collaborates with more sophisticated elements of immunity in higher animals (T cells) to deliver a powerful rejection response. I have applied this knowledge to clinical problems, in particular the development of new technologies for the welfare of patients. This is the essence of King’s Health Partners, in which I now find myself, as Director of the MRC Centre for Transplantation and co-leader of one of the major clinical-academic groups, which includes organ transplantation and other intra-abdominal specialties.
Describe your current role
Colleagues and I have established a new field of complement-based transplantation biology and have exploited new technologies to identify genetic markers that predict rejection and novel treatment approaches that promise to extend the lifespan of organ transplants.
We have just returned from the British Science Festival where we presented our latest research on protein therapy and cell therapy conducted by Dr Richard Smith and Professor Giovanna Lombardi respectively.
Both fields of research use natural products in the body, which are removed from the body and modified for therapeutic purposes. Protein therapy is used to ‘coat’ the donor organ with a protein, which has a therapeutic effect in the early period of transplantation. The cell therapy treatment comes in at a later stage, when regulatory ‘T’ cells multiplied in the laboratory, can potentially be reintroduced into the body to suppress the immune response which rejects the kidney.
What is your vision for the MRC Centre for Transplantation?
It is a huge privilege being located in London as we serve a very large local population with their particular health care problems. Significant numbers of patients with high blood pressure and diabetes mean that we have higher than average rates of kidney failure compared with the rest of the UK.
At the Centre we hope that our scientific advances will bring tangible benefits to this patient population and have a positive impact on the waiting list for donor organs. We all share a desire to see the scientific advances made in transplantation applied more rapidly to improvements in patient care.
Furthermore, we aspire to deliver excellence in research at an internationally competitive level, and to pursue top quality patient-orientated studies.
To assist with achieving this, a key part of the Centre’s work is to develop an educational programme, both internally for members of the collaborative faculties and Trusts, but also for PhD students wishing to develop a career in transplantation research.
A balance of clinician led and non-clinician led research programmes contribute to these goals, as does a robustly organised programme of trainee-supervision in a collegial, cross-disciplinary environment.
Photograph by Tony Dale.