Skip to main content

03 April 2019

5 Minutes with Dr Mark McPhail

Dr Mark McPhail is a Senior Lecturer and Consultant in Liver Critical Care and Hepatology in the Institute of Liver Studies, Department of Inflammation Biology. His career has taken him from Greenock in the West of Scotland to the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to teaching English in Spain before eventually joining King’s in 2017.

Mark McPhail
Mark McPhail

Briefly, tell me about your background and career up to this point at King’s? 

I am from Greenock in the west of Scotland and started out training in physics with a PhD in molecular spectroscopy which included a spell at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. After that, I worked in Spain (teaching English) and for oil companies in Aberdeen before going to medical school. After medical school I trained in gastroenterology, hepatology, internal medicine and intensive care and (feeling like I missed spectroscopy) did a Wellcome-funded postdoc in metabonomics at Imperial College. I started as a senior lecturer in experimental medicine at King's in 2017.

What research are you currently working on?

I am interested in liver failure and the intersection between metabolism and immune function. I utilise my spectroscopic background to interrogate multiple metabolic pathways simultaneously to find not only biomarkers of sepsis and mortality but also pathways to beneficially improve hepatocyte survival and innate immune function. At present, our group focuses on the roles of phospholipids on the function of monocytes with a view to preventing immune paresis in patients with liver failure. This uses a combination of metabonomics, immunology and advanced statistics.  

What is a typical day like for you?

Almost no day is the same. I could be on call for liver intensive care, performing endoscopy, seeing patients in clinic, teaching, working with the lab team on their data in the lab, attending a conference or analysing metabonomics data. A few days of the week I run to pick up my son from school and improve my knowledge of all things Lego!

Where is your research area heading in the next five years?

We hope to find highly accurate markers of mortality to better predict which patient need liver transplantation or early treatment for sepsis. Beyond this, I hope to find new therapies targeting lipid pathways of monocyte function and hepatocyte viability that will bridge patients with liver failure to recovery or provide more optimal conditions for transplantation. There are almost no pharmacological treatments for patients with liver failure and metabolic modulation of immunity is a great aspiration of the group.

What would you like members of our school to most know about you and your research area?

I look at problems in inflammation from potentially an unusual perspective. The patients that I look after, have high mortality and the stakes are high so I am immensely invested in finding out why that happens and findings ways to prevent their deterioration. As my background is in metabolism, spectroscopy and statistics I am always keen to learn from the immunologists in the school as I think that will make me a better scientist. Plus, I am happy to discuss the statistical analysis of their data.

What is your favourite part of your current role?

The variety and the opportunity to move between clinical and laboratory work. Not all doctors get the opportunity to do that and it’s something that I relish.

What do you do with your time outside of academia?

I spend a lot of time with my family as well as running, hiking and visiting the mountains back home in Scotland whenever I can.

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

That it’s OK to do something completely different tfromyour peers.

Who do you look up to (inside or outside of academia)?

People who ask the questions everyone else is thinking.



Favourite Movie: A Few Good Men

Favourite Book: East of Eden

Favourite TV Show: Game of Thrones

Favourite Scientist: Michael Faraday