An interview with Charles Curtis

Charles working with the BioResource lab team at the NIHR Maudsley BRC BioResource lab at SGDP centre - photo taken before COVID-19.

Charles Curtis is Genomics Coordinator & Core Facility Manager at NIHR Maudsley BRC and Associate Director Core Facilities (Operations) at King's College London. He supports labs across the BRC and King's, and is currently working on the KCL TEST project, part of King's College London /King's Health Partners involvement in the national COVID-19 testing programme.

Please can you give us an overview of your roles? 

I’m a Genomics Coordinator & Core Facility Manager at the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) and Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London (IoPPN). I manage a team of amazing, dedicated lab technicians and research assistants, who provide support and genomic services to numerous research projects within the BRC, IoPPN, King's and other research institutions. My days are spent advising research groups on project set up and putting the required processes in place to facilitate specific research requirements, discussing budgets to ensure best value, reviewing sample access requests and material transfer agreements.

What is your favourite part of your BRC role?

I love being part of a team who constantly strive to deliver and improve our offerings and support to the wider research community. Our project initiation meetings are a particular treat with so many ideas, possibilities and challenges flying around. Here I also get to meet long term collaborators, many of whom have become close friends.

Can you give a brief overview of your career? What are you most proud of? 

I completed a BSc (Hons) Pharmaceutical Science in 2000, then an MRes in Molecular Genetics in 2003. I started working as a Research Assistant at The Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre lab with Bernard Freeman and Professor Ian Craig in 2002, then moved to The Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) team in 2003, working with Professor Robert Plomin where I became the principal lab Research Assistant and curator of the TEDS sample set. I returned to the SGDP lab management team in 2010 to work on high-throughput genotyping and set up a sequencing platform before joining the BRC in 2013 as the BioResource lab manager, where I have remained ever since. 

I’m most proud of the level of support our lab provide within the BRC and to our King's research community, and how flexible the team are in facilitating individual project requirements. Also, we have recently grown our high-throughput genotyping service to become the largest provider in the UK. 

How did you get interested in research?

I have always loved science and adored The Muppet Show’s Dr Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker as a child! I was fascinated by the many colourful and bubbling liquids in their lab. Growing up, a close friend had a parent who experienced severe mental health issues. I think witnessing the impact on the family and local community and the limited options for treatment back then had an underlying effect on my career choice. I was extremely fortunate to spend my degree placement year in the IoPPN labs with Maria Arranz and David Collier working on The Maudsley Family Study – from then on, I was well and truly hooked!

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected your work / life?

The personal impact has been quite severe as my mother passed away in December due to delays in her chemo treatment caused by COVID-19 restrictions. Not being able to take the children to visit older relatives has been quite tough as intergenerational relationships are so important to us as a family. Workwise, luckily our labs have reopened, and I do get to see the team, in a very socially distanced manner, obviously!

I’m currently on secondment where I support the King's /King’s Health Partners delivery of Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 labs to assist the Coronavirus (COVID-19) National Testing Programme. As facility lead, I continue to support the KCL TEST project which provides non-invasive testing for staff and students within the King's community.

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm working on supporting the COVID-19 testing labs as mentioned above, including improvements to KCL TEST in relation to capacity and processes.

I’m also setting up new genotyping projects including a Long COVID genome-wide association study (GWAS) with collaborators at KCL, H3A Africa consortium projects for sickle cell, rotavirus infection, clonal hematopoiesis and also some cancer genotyping projects.

All about you

Favourite book / TV series / box set of the past year

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith and When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamín Labatut

Who is your science hero?

Rosalind Franklin (is that too obvious?!) and our Pillar 2 COVID-19 testing labs were named the June Almeida laboratory – she is another pioneer in imaging, and first discovered coronavirus in 1964, amongst other things!

How would you spend your perfect Saturday?

Pancakes, exploring some woods or coastline with the family with a flask of hot chocolate, then movie night with takeaway. Sometimes 6 nations creeps into these Saturdays along with sneaking out to the occasional gig once the kids are in bed (pre-COVID).

Best discovery of recent lockdowns?

Nintendo Switch, marshmallow fluff, couch to 5k (kinda….)

Tags: BRC Interview Series - Staff News -

By NIHR Maudsley BRC at 28 Sep 2021, 09:45 AM

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