Daniel M Davis, PhD, is The Director of Research in the Manchester Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research – a research institute funded by the University of Manchester, AstraZeneca and GSK. Prior to this, he was a Professor of Molecular Immunology at Imperial College London, UK and Head of the Immunology and Infection Section at the South Kensington Campus. Professor Davis pioneered the use of novel imaging techniques to help visualize key molecular components of the immune response. His work helped establish new concept of how immune cells communicate with each other and how they recognize disease. Dr Davis’ book The Compatibility Gene – was published by Penguin in 2013 and is on the longlist for the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize.
I studied physics first because nothing beats the scale over which physics works – from the formation of stars to what goes on inside atoms. But after my PhD, I decided that it’s perhaps more interesting to think about how life works. So I went to Harvard for a few years to research the immune system. For me, all kinds of science are fascinating – but the added bonus of thinking about the immune system that it can seed new ideas for medicine.
Why this book?
There are genetic differences between people and misunderstanding human variation has led to some of the greatest tragedies in history. A big message of my book is that our greatest genetic differences – the genes that vary the most from person to person – are in our immune system. And it is essential that we have this diversity; this enormous variation is essential to how the human body fights disease. My book is also about individuality on a different level. It’s also a story showing how different scientists contribute – in different ways – to our understanding of nature.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed discussing the immune system with the public. I especially enjoy festivals, like the Hay Festival which I’ve loved for years but this was the first time I got to speak there, and my family’s really looking forward to Latitude in a couple of weeks. So I want to keep talking about The Compatibility Gene a while longer before I commit to another book project but undoubtedly, there are many fascinating stories in immunology that I think deserve more attention.
What’s exciting you at the moment?
My own research is in imaging the way in which immune cells detect signs of disease. My lab team uses new kinds of light microscopes that can detect individual protein molecules in cells. It’s wonderful as we can now study how immune cells work on a nano-metre scale. With this, we can answer specific long-standing questions – like how do immune cells kill cancer cells – but also, just by watching, we can discover entirely new unexpected phenomena about the behaviour of immune cells.