Professor Luciana Di Silvio
Professor of Tissue Engineering
Head of Division of Biomaterials, Biomimetics & Biophotonics
Biomaterials, Biomimetics & Biophotonics
Date started at King’s
Challenges and achievements
When and what was responsible for you becoming interested in your academic discipline?
I began my professional career at the Middlesex Hospital in central London, where I worked as a Biochemist in the Metabolic & Endocrine Unit. My work involved direct contact with patients, both adults and children, on whom I performed a variety of metabolic tests. In addition, I pursued research in relation to children who had growth disorders. My interest in the use of growth factors for bone repair resulted in my taking up a PhD programme in the Interdisciplinary Research centre at Queen Mary University, London. As biologist I was located at the Institute of Orthopaedics at the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital in Stanmore. It was there that my research really took off, following my PhD I rapidly formed my own group focussing on bone disorders, in particular bone repair and regeneration. I had the privilege of working with world leading orthopaedic and bone cancer specialists.
What are your research interests, and what drew you to this area?
Having spent the first 12 years of my professional career working directly with patients, I was adamant that my research should be in area that could directly impact patient health and well being. I enjoyed the challenge of working with the clinical teams, discussing real problems related to musculoskeletal diseases and trauma, and to be able to translate my research to have a clinically useful outcome. Following my PhD, my appetite was increased further to explore the repair of diseased and trauma damaged tissue using a tissue engineering approach. My research exploits the use of living cells to create viable scaffolds for clinical applications such e.g maxillo-facial reconstruction, in particular understanding vascularisation and how these systems integrate with host tissue. The main mission of my research group is to enhance healthcare outcomes, providing a unique interface between basic and applied research through to clinical translation.
Tell us about a couple of your achievements that have been particularly rewarding.
One of my achievements that I found particularly rewarding was when I first started in my current employment as a Senior Lecturer in 2003, where the major challenge was to set up a tissue engineering group. At the time, I had no staff, and only a small section of a bench in the cell laboratory. Within a short time the group began expanding to an entire bench and then an entire laboratory, where today it boasts state- of the art equipment and is flourishing both as a teaching and research facility. During my role as Secretary of the European Society for Biomaterials (ESB) I was active in the role of Liaison Officer for young scientists, promoting their role in science and biomaterials. I mentored them to attain Official Legal Status as a ‘ Young Scientist Forum’ within the ESB and it has been very rewarding seeing them progress and have a voice as full members of Council.
Do you have professional role models? Who are they and what do you find inspiring about them and their accomplishments?
I have several professional role models but one who has significantly influenced my career path from the first day is Professor Susan Standring (Editor in Chief of the world’s most famous anatomical reference book – Grays’ Anatomy). Soon after I started at KCL in 2003, I was invited by the Principle to attend a ‘ new staff dinner’ and I had the privilege of meeting and sitting next to, Susan. We hit it off straight away and met for coffee next day, the beginning of many such meetings and chats. Her wisdom and advice were to serve me for many years to come. She was passionate about women succeeding in professional senior roles when at the time they were in minority. Her role as a professional and successful woman inspired and motivated me to achieve my goals, despite sometimes difficult challenges.
What if any support has most benefited you in your career?
The support of my team from the most junior to the most senior from early career days to the current day. Working as a team has significant rewards both personally and professionally.
What do you feel is the most enjoyable/rewarding aspect of your job at King’s?
Working in a multicultural, multidisciplinary group. I enjoy my role as supervisor, I find the time spent with my students both rewarding and inspiring. The greatest reward and satisfaction for me is to see my students mature, become independent and challenging researchers. In 2014, I was awarded the KCL Supervisory Excellence Award . I was delighted to receive this award and felt honoured at this show of appreciation by my students. The other rewarding aspect of my job is to be able to work directly with clinical colleagues, discuss clinical problems, and to collaborate on research projects that have the potential to go from concept to the patient.
How do you balance the various demands of a career in academia: research, teaching/learning, administration?
I am both an early riser and also late person, so I tend to do my personal work at either end of the day, that does, however, mean that the working day is very long and tiring. In the morning I tend to tackle my more complex tasks undisturbed, whereas in the evening I catch up on emails or reading reports, planning etc. I have in the past operated an ‘open door policy’ but more recently, since my promotion to Head of Division, I have been challenged to re-prioritise my working day in order to allow some space for my own work.
How do you balance an academic career with life outside the workplace?
Some members of my family would argue would argue that I don’t !
Research and Academia is definitely not a 9.00 to 5.00 job, I regularly work both in the evenings and at weekends, sometimes to the early hours. Having family and friends in different jobs, does mean that sometimes they don’t understand the nature and hours spent on work. However, I do try and keep some perspective and balance, I enjoy spending time with family and friends, walking and entertaining.
What have you learnt from your experiences that you would like to share with others?
Believe in yourself and your ability to achieve your goals and aspirations and don’t be afraid to go after them
Science is a social job, it requires good team spirit, communication and listening and learning from each other.
Never be afraid to seek advice and share any concerns or fears
Approach each day with an open mind, you are never too old to learn something new
Treat everyone with equal importance. It is not who you are, but how you perform.