Skip to main content

Daniel Davis – Four Way Interview

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.
Why science?
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.
What’s next?
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.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Where are the chemistry popular science books?

by Brian Clegg
There has never been more emphasis on the importance of public engagement. We need both to encourage a deeper interest in science and to counter anti-scientific views that seem to go hand-in-hand with some types of politics. Getting the public interested in science both helps recruit new scientists of the future and spreads an understanding of why an area of scientific research deserves funding. Yet it is possible that chemistry lags behind the other sciences in outreach. As a science writer, and editor of this website, I believe that chemistry is under-represented in popular science. I'd like to establish if this is the case, if so why it is happening - and what can be done to change things. 


An easy straw poll is provided by the topic tags on the site. At the time of writing, there are 22 books under 'chemistry' as opposed to 97 maths, 126 biology and 182 physics. The distribution is inevitably influenced by editorial bias - but as the editor, I can confirm …

The Case Against Reality - Donald Hoffman ***

It's not exactly news that our perception of the world around us can be a misleading confection of the brain, rather than a precise picture of reality - everything from optical illusions to the apparent motion of video confirms this - but professor of cognitive science Donald Hoffman goes far beyond this. He wants us to believe that spacetime and the objects in it are not real: that they only exist when we perceive them. It's not that he believes everything to be totally illusory, but suggests that the whole framework of the physical world is a construction of our minds.

To ease us into this viewpoint, Hoffman gives the example of the Necker cube - the clever two-dimensional drawing apparently of a cube which can be seen in two totally different orientations. Calling these orientations 'Cube A and Cube B' he remarks that our changing perceptions suggest that 'neither Cube A nor Cube B is there when no one looks, and there is no objective cube that exists unobserve…

The Universe Speaks in Numbers - Graham Farmelo ****

Theoretical physics has taken something of a hammering lately with books such as Sabine Hossenfelder's Lost in Math. The suggestion from these earlier titles is that theoretical physics is so obsessed with mathematics that many theoretical physicists spend their careers working on theory that doesn't actually apply to the universe, because the maths is interesting. Even experimental physics can be tainted, as the driver for new expenditure in experiments, such as the proposed new collider at CERN, is not driven by discoveries but by these mathematically-directed theories. Graham Farmelo presents the opposite view here: that this speculative mathematical work is, in fact, a great success.
As I am very much in the Hossenfelder camp, I expected to find Farmelo's book rather irritating, as it's effectively a love letter to mathematically-obsessed theoretical physics - but in reality (an entertaining phrase, given the context) I found it both interesting and enjoyable. Far…