Manu De Rycker is Head of Translational Parasitology and Portfolio Leader for Kinetoplastid Drug Discovery at the Drug Discovery Unit (DDU), University of Dundee, UK. He is also a member of the WCAIR Management Board.
As Portfolio Leader for Kinetoplastid Drug Discovery Manu leads a substantial drug discovery programme focused on delivering new pre-clinical candidates for visceral leishmaniasis and Chagas disease. In collaboration with GSK this programme has developed one of the first new pre-clinical candidates for visceral leishmaniasis. Manu works closely with biologists, chemists and pharmacologists to deliver further candidates for these neglected tropical diseases.
Manu’s background is in biotechnology engineering and molecular genetics. His main interest is in applied biology for drug discovery and, in particular, understanding and improving the relevance of in vitro cell-based assays. He leads the DDU parasitology team who have successfully built extensive screening cascades that have proven pivotal to rapidly identify new compounds with the best chance of demonstrating in vivo efficacy.
We asked Manu why we chose research as a career and .
Question: What is your earliest science memory ?
Answer: Looking at my own hair using my kids’ microscope.
Q: Did a particular person(s) or event start your career as a scientist?
A: I was not good enough in maths to continue my Latin-Maths major in High School, so was moved to Latin-Sciences. Loved science and went on to study bio-engineering at University.
Q: What characteristics make a good scientist?
A: A combination of a creative and rigorous analytical mind, lots of patience and being able to put up with (many) setbacks!
Q: Do you think being a scientist impacts the way you approach everything in life?
A: Yes! I use a lot of thermometers at home and write “protocols” for when I’m cooking. I like to experiment with food, making beer or smoking meats. In general, I love measuring, whether it’s cooking, driving the car or cycling and I usually carry a device to record key parameters, some of my favourites on the bike are average speed, total ascent and average heart rate.
Q: What motivates you to come into work every day?
A: Working with a great multidisciplinary team to develop new medicines for neglected tropical diseases.
Q: Is there any part of human lives where science can’t help or inform?
A: Not that I can think of.
Q: Do you ever wish you had chosen a different career?
A: I love my job, so no complaints. That said, maintaining a long-term successful science career is not straightforward, and dependent on many factors out of our control, so it certainly can be stressful at times.
Q: As an early career scientist what are the most important thing the more senior scientists can do to help you?
A: We all have to create our own path, but support from senior colleagues to allow independent paper and grant writing is key.
WCAIR believes public engagement is a key activity for all researchers.
Q: How do we help the science community and general public understand each other better?
A: I think it’s very important to explain what we do to the general public, in an accessible way. If people understand what we are trying to achieve and how, then we can have a much more meaningful discussion.
Q: How do we encourage people from communities where there a few science role models to train as scientists?
A: I think one way is to engage with, and inspire, school children in communities where science jobs are less common. From my own experience children are very open to learning about science and scientists, and it may motivate some to study science later.
Q:What do you think scientists need to learn from the public?
A: I find that non-scientists often have insightful questions that make me think about my work. Sometimes we are so focused on the detail that a more broad or general question from a totally different perspective can be eye-opening.
Grew up: near Antwerp,Belgium
Favourite Book: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
Favourite Film: Lots! Some recent ones: Parasite, Nebraska, Stronger
Favourite Box set binge? Bosch
Favourite computer game: Paradroid (1986)
Favourite thing to do at the weekend: Spending time with my family & cycling
Desert Island Luxury: Online music streaming service.
Which record would you save from the incoming Tay tide: The White Album, The Beatles