Professor John Terry has joined BHP founder member the University of Birmingham from the University of Exeter, leading the new Centre for Systems Modelling and Quantitative Biomedicine as an Interdisciplinary Professorial Fellow. With a background in applied mathematics, Professor Terry’s interdisciplinary research looks to develop mathematical and computational tools to understand clinical data. Find out more about what he hopes to achieve here in Birmingham:
What is your research about?
My research looks to develop and apply mathematical and computational tools to interrogate clinical data in order to make better decisions about diagnosis, prognosis and management of disease.
A lot of my focus is on neurological conditions, such as epilepsy. I also work in endocrine systems; particularly the stress response axis and stress-related conditions, which are increasingly important societal challenges.
Why is this research important?
For many of the conditions that we’re interested in, the current clinical pathway is fraught with uncertainties; there’s uncertainty in the diagnosis, there’s uncertainty in the prognosis, there’s uncertainty in how you manage the condition on a day-to-day basis.
For example, with epilepsy seizures occur apparently at random. This can have a very debilitating effect on the individual and their family and friends.
Our research has the potential to not only make the diagnosis more accurate but to happen more quickly and identify the right treatments at the right time as well. In the longer term we hope to reveal time windows when seizures are more likely to occur, and therefore enable people with epilepsy to manage their condition more effectively.
How did you get into this field of research?
I’ve always been interested in inter-disciplinary research. My PhD was a joint one between mathematics and experimental laser physics. I spent some time in a laser lab during that PhD, and that’s where I first got the bug for looking to apply mathematics in a meaningful way.
Through various fortuitous moments, over time I gradually moved into the biomedical and clinical space, and developed collaborations with people who were interested in understanding the brain, understanding other physiological systems and bringing all that together to understand disease.
What’s been your greatest achievement to date?
Something I’m particularly proud of is the framework that we developed to enable early career researchers to build their own independent research careers. In the last three to four years I have helped mentor 15 individuals to secure their own independent funding from research councils and charities, which has set them on the path to their own research careers and building their own teams and groups.
What is your motivation for getting up in the morning?
My motivation is to make a difference. We have a lot of fantastic early career researchers. Watching their careers develop and knowing that I’m hopefully contributing in a small way to enable them to achieve their dreams and visions is really motivating for me.
For my own research, being able to make a difference for people with specific medical conditions is a real motivating factor. It makes me doubly determined to get up in the morning.
More practically, my young daughter screaming “Daddy come back” at 5.00am is quite a strong motivator to get up!