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Kay Davies at the Koch Institute

Dame Kay Davies, Dr Lee’s Professor of Anatomy at the University of Oxford, has spent a packed few weeks at the Koch Institute at MIT where she was hosted by Richard Hynes, Daniel K Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research and HHMI Investigator. Kay had two objectives for her VVP sabbatical: to discuss the latest data and techniques with those laboratories and companies involved in rare disease research, in particular, to assess the exciting progress in gene therapy in both academia and biotech; and to explore scientists’ attitudes to somatic and germ line therapy.  The latter is important for her role as co-chair of the International Commission on Human Germline Gene Editing. She also “wanted to understand why Boston is such a vibrant place with ease of collaborations between academia and industry with many interactions across disciplines. I am pleased to say that I achieved more than I could have hoped for. The weeks went by very quickly indeed and I had trouble fitting everything in.”

Kay’s main research focuses on the devastating X-linked muscle disease Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). This fatal disease, which only affects boys, is caused by mutations in the dystrophin gene, which encodes a large cytoskeletal protein, dystrophin.  Dystrophin is localized at the muscle membrane.  There is currently no effective treatment, although some drugs can slow disease progression in some patients, and initial results from ongoing clinical trials are promising.  Kay’s VVP sabbatical provided not only the opportunity to talk science and scientific innovation with colleagues at the Koch Institute, in biotech, and at Duke University, which she visited briefly, but also to meet with graduate students to discuss their science, careers at the interface of academic basic science and biotech, the increasing pace of science and innovation, the role of biotech and big Pharma in biology, and the ethical aspects of scientific discovery. “This is a perfect way to learn new science and explore new collaborations.  I am indebted to the Vallee Foundation for giving me this opportunity.”