Dr David Pattison was appointed as joint leader of the Free Radical Group in 2014 when the former HRI Director and leader of the Free Radical Group, Professor Michael Davies, left the HRI to take up a new position in Denmark.
David now directs the activities of the group in collaboration with Professor Davies. David is a dedicated and highly accomplished researcher, and is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney.
David manages a cohesive group of talented scientists, including five PhD students and one Marcus Blackmore Fellow. The Free Radical Group is currently expanding with the recent recruitment of a new post-doctoral research officer. David is enthusiastic about his work at the HRI, saying “While the HRI is very well equipped with most of the instrumentation that I need to do my research available on site, it’s the friendly and supportive culture that makes it so appealing to work here.”
The Free Radical Group’s overarching aim is to investigate the role of free radicals and oxidants in the body, particularly in relation to atherosclerosis which is a disease of the arteries that involves the formation of fatty plaques that can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Free radicals and other highly reactive oxidants are continuously produced within the body and have beneficial roles such as in combating infection. An excessive or misplaced production of these oxidants however, can result in tissue damage that has been implicated in many inflammatory diseases, including atherosclerosis.
“In heart disease and many other inflammatory diseases, there is increasing recognition of the role of oxidants,” says David. “Oxidants are extremely reactive chemicals that can damage numerous biologically important materials. This damage can alter the function of proteins and lipids, so that they become pro-atherosclerotic and initiate the cellular dysfunction that occurs in the arterial walls during atherosclerosis.”
Normally the body’s own mechanisms, involving certain proteins and enzymes, keep this damage in check. “In chronic inflammation, as occurs in atherosclerosis, high levels of oxidants overwhelm the body’s protective mechanisms, leading to damage and deterioration over time,” explains David. “We look at the reactions of these oxidants to try and understand how these processes are occurring, and how we might develop or improve antioxidants that can protect against the damage that these compounds cause.”
David began his scientific career with a Bachelor of Chemistry at the University of York, England. He continued at the University of York to undertake his DPhil in Chemistry with a focus on industrial catalysts. On completion of his DPhil, David moved to his first postdoctoral position at the Department of Surgery at University College London, where he undertook research into light activated cancer therapies. It was during this time that he started to apply his chemical knowledge to the area of medical research.
David left the UK for Sydney in the late 1990’s, and began working with the Department of Chemistry at the University of Sydney, looking at the mechanisms by which chromium carcinogens might cause the early biological changes that can lead to cancer development.
David’s move to the Heart Research Institute in 2000 involved a shift in his research focus from cancer to heart disease, however many of the techniques he uses in his current research are similar to those that he has employed throughout his career, even in the days of examining the chemistry of industrial catalysts.
“I love looking at a problem from different angles and piecing the puzzle together.”
“I love using complex technology and instrumentation, particularly mass spectrometry and techniques that let me work out how fast reactions are occurring," says David. "But what is really exciting is when experiments don’t give the results you expect, then it becomes detective work to figure out what’s going on.”
David describes one of the highlights of his career as the first article he published on work undertaken at the HRI. Since publication in 2001, it has garnered nearly 350 citations, with an impact not only in medical science but also across a broad range of other disciplines including water purification, food science, materials engineering and even space science, being cited in a paper that discussed the composition of Martian soil and meteorites.
“There is a certain satisfaction in seeing your work appreciated and contributing to the understanding of fundamental science across a wide range of scientific fields, which can potentially lead to new discoveries and translational opportunities,” said David.