Attracting top talent: Florey Institute and Imaging Life

Two rising stars in the research fields of microbial pathogenesis and the hidden structures of bacteria, have established laboratories in the University of Sheffield .

Dr Rebecca Corigan Dr Egbert Hoiczyk

Dr Rebecca Corrigan, who studied first at Trinity College Dublin, before doing post-doctoral research at Imperial College London, and Dr Egbert Hoiczyk, who studied at the Max Planck Institute, before moving to the Rockefeller University, are part of a new wave of researchers who have been attracted to Sheffield following the decision to invest around £12 million into The Florey Institute for Host-Pathogen Interactions and its sister project Imagine: Imaging Life. This has attracted substantial investment from other sources including funds from research grants and Foundations. 2022 Futures also encompasses Plant Production and Protection (P3) research centre.

Here at Sheffield I am working alongside physicists, chemists, bacteriologists, botanists, clinicians; it’s an incredibly fertile environment for sharing ideas and developing new research projects

Dr egbert Hoiczyk

Dr Hoiczyk, a newly hired Senior Lecturer who came to Sheffield from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, said this strategic investment in state-of-the-art light and electron microscopy as part of Imagine has elevated Sheffield to global research status. “This is absolutely cutting edge, you can do research here of a quality and in a way you could not do better anywhere else in the world,” said Dr Hoiczyk, who worked alongside Nobel Prize winner Günter Blobel in the USA, and Wolfgang Baumeister, a world leader in electron microscopy.

But what both Rebecca and Egbert find most attractive about the University of Sheffield is not just the expensive hardware. “Sheffield has a very research intensive environment where people work closely together. At Johns Hopkins I was one of just two bacteriologists and most of my other colleagues were spread across the city. I met more of them at conferences than I did in the university,” he said.

Rebecca, a Sir Henry Dale Research Fellow who is exploring the role of signalling molecules in the antibiotic resistant bacterium Staphylococcus aureus (the source of the potentially fatal hospital acquired infection MRSA), agrees that what makes the University of Sheffield so different is this sense of community.

What attracted me is this remarkable mixture of biochemists, microbiologists, structural biologists, all working together in my department (MBB - the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology) makes collaborations incredibly easy and so conducive to multidisciplinary research. The unique approach to research of the Florey Institute was just the icing on the cake

Dr Rebecca Corrigan

Both researchers were full of praise for Professor Simon Foster, the academic lead of the Imagine project and his colleagues. “It’s one thing to have the idea of the 2022 Futures Initiative and Imagine project but quite a different thing to make it happen,” said Dr Hoiczyk. “One of the many novel ideas behind Imagine and Florey is to bring clinicians and molecular biologists together to discuss their research,” added Dr Corrigan.

“I get to meet a lot of clinicians and immunologists who I wouldn’t have come into contact with before, which has enabled me to set up new and fruitful collaborations. Getting to talk to the doctors who treat patients who could be killed by this pathogen is important but actually bringing us together, as the Florey Initiative is doing, makes this a great place to do research,” she said.

“That’s really what makes Sheffield different,” said Egbert. “My area of research is now focused on the structures of bacteria and how we can make these vulnerable to antibiotics. This has led me to look at how a specific protein inside a bacterium tells it to stop when they find the optimum nutrient position. I’ve been talking to researchers in dentistry about this, and we have found a common interest. The biofilm that is responsible for almost all disease in teeth is formed by sitting bacteria, and they have found that ultrasonic waves have a good effect in not only removing biofilms mechanically but to convince bacteria sitting in these biofilms that they should actually let go and start becoming dispersed. So we are now talking about a collaboration because we think that cytoskeletons of the bacteria could play a role in that.”

Interested in getting involved?

For more information on these projects or to find out how to get involved, please contact:

Dr Chrissy Sammut, 2022 Futures Project Manager

C.Sammut@sheffield.ac.uk
0114 222 1054