After finishing medical school at age 21, Clara Podmore left for Cambridge to do her PhD in epidemiology.
Can you tell us about your research, in a few words?
My PhD aims to determine whether there is a causal relationship between iron overload and type 2 diabetes. We know that most patients with haemochromatosis, a hereditary disease known as iron overload disorder, also have type 2 diabetes. But we want to identify modifiable risk factors for type 2 diabetes on top of the non-modifiable factors that we’re already aware of (age, gender, genetic background, etc.). That will help us better prevent and treat this disease. To do so, we have to analyse the genetic information of tens of thousands of people and identify the genes responsible for iron metabolism. Then, we’ll have to see if they have an effect on the development of diabetes to confirm our hypothesis.
Was studying in Cambridge, in an internationally renowned laboratory, a dream come true?
I’d say that it’s a plan that developed over the course of my career. Fortunately, not all the top research groups are located in the United States. And I must admit that I have a certain fondness for English culture and lifestyle, which has a better balance between people’s professional and personal lives. It’s not always easy to stay motivated when doing research, so it’s important to be in an environment where you feel happy. That helps keep you going!
Your work requires you spend lots of time in front of a computer analysing data, a so-called “dry lab”. How do you handle these more tedious periods far from the clinic?
It’s true that my main job is very different from the day-to-day work at the clinic. However, I’ve made sure that I wouldn’t totally lose contact by continuing to see patients, going to conferences and especially, discussing cases encountered by my colleagues, who do lots of clinical work. Not to mention that it gave me the opportunity to experience another health care system, with its advantages and disadvantages. And to appreciate even more the Swiss health care system, which really is excellent. ⁄