Professor Matthew Watt, Head of Department
BSc, MSc, PhD
Established in 1862 and with a strong record of excellence, our Department's goal is to remain at the forefront of scientific research using novel and imaginative research methods to study metabolism, cardiovascular health, neurophysiology, and muscle and exercise physiology.
Explain your role here and what inspires you about your work?
I joined the School of Biomedical Sciences in 2018. Now, I head the Department of Physiology and lead a research team that seeks to identify how defects of lipid metabolism and inter-tissue communication cause obesity-related disorders, such as type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. We use this information to uncover novel targets that can be transitioned to clinical therapeutics. I draw my inspiration from a few places: seeing the development of our early career researchers and successes of all our staff, seeing a well-conceived plan through to completion and making new discoveries.
Why is the School – and the Biomedical Precinct – a great place to study and work?
The breadth of resources and skills that spans from basic research to clinical practice is world class. So many great minds and a genuine desire for collaboration.
Broadly speaking, how would you describe the current era of biomedicine and what lies ahead for your field?
With the rapid development of, and access to, sensitive and high-throughput technologies, almost any researcher can now dive deeply into understanding the cellular and molecular bases of biological processes and disease pathogenesis. The challenge now is to harness this advance in technology by coordinating multi-disciplinary research programs to answer important biological questions and address unmet clinical needs. And the future for our field – it’s bright and exciting. There still isn’t an approved therapy for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and many researchers and pharmaceutical companies are pouring time and money into attacking this problem from multiple fronts. I think there will be some new tools for NASH treatment in the next five years.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Two pieces of advice that might sound contradictory: (1) Don’t be afraid to pursue that big new idea and (2) Slow down, take a few extra moments to think deeply about your data before plunging head first into that next series of experiments.
How has your department responded to the pandemic, and what are the next steps?
The Department of Physiology has been guided by policies from the University COVID Response Team. The Department have been understanding of the rapidly changing landscape and shown great agility in their work practices: adjusting their teaching and research approaches with really effective outcomes. I am very proud of how we’ve worked together to maintain high-level outputs and I’ve learnt a lot about the Department’s resilience and collegiality. What’s next? Who knows. Hopefully a safe and carefully planned return to work, some face-to-face contact and less Zoom!