A Future in Chemistry - Your career starts here
Drug vials

Director of IRC in Biomedical Materials

Pankaj Vadgama

My job involves research into biomedical fields.

00:09 My career path is somewhat unusual, my first degree was in medicine at the university of Newcastle,

00:16 and after qualifying I decided to go into laboratory medicine, actually into histopathology,

00:23 but decided that really wasn’t quite for me,

00:25 and moved into an allied, sister discipline of pathology, called clinical biochemistry.

00:31 The interesting thing was that my boss at that time believed his junior doctors knew very little science,

00:39 and he sent several of us across the university to do a straightforward chemistry degree.

00:44 So I was privileged, extraordinarily privileged in being able to do a chemistry degree after qualifying in medicine

00:50 and really that triggered a very unusual and quirky career pathway

00:56 because I was never quite a doctor and never quite a chemist.

00:59 I was essentially headhunted by ICI in those days, Imperial Chemical Industries, who were looking for

01:07 who were looking for a biotechnology approach to their products.

01:13 So suddenly, out of the blue, my career switched from being a developing NHS pathologist

01:21 to being a researcher, and since then I’ve simply expanded on my research activities in biochemical senses,

01:28 and that’s really what I research on currently, and that’s what brought on for me a hugely privileged career.

01:35 My entire life has been pivotal in being based on chemistry,

01:40 and I owe chemistry a great deal of what I’ve managed to do in my career.

01:48 On the medical side, they’re a nice way of monitoring patients, especially patients who might be critically ill

01:56 or might be diabetic, because what sensors can do is to provide continuous data,

02:02 real-time information about biochemical changes inside the body.

02:07 That was the medical side of the interest, but the chemistry side was

02:11 there were, of course, one had to develop the right chemistries,

02:14 and it’s those chemistries I’ve been trying to work on for a long, long time.

02:18 But the really intriguing and interesting part of this is number 1, how do you miniaturise?

02:24 So that you can implant these devices in human beings, and number 2,

02:28 how do you implant and at the same time allow the body to tolerate this alien implant of your sensor.

02:36 So that’s brought in yet another strand of interest which is implants and biomedical materials.

02:45 I mean hospital biochemistry, we do huge amounts of biochemical measurements.

02:50 My laboratory does about 5 and a half million tests per annum, but

02:55 this is on single samples of blood, and you get a slice of time which you can investigate.

03:03 What sensors do is provide a continuous readout.

03:06 So you have a continuous trace of the ups and downs of what the biochemistry’s doing inside the body.

03:17 We were very privileged to be awarded with our lead partners Imperial College,

03:24 a project to monitor elite athletes, and one can imagine that an elite athlete

03:31 is physiologically at the extreme of human endurance.

03:35 One might almost argue he or she is in an abnormal state,

03:39 which is not a million miles away from being critically ill actually,

03:34 and our small role in this is to provide biochemical sensors that allow for the kind of monitoring

03:51 that I’ve always envisaged for clinical monitoring,

03:55 and through the continuous readout, I emphasise the continuous readout, we hope indeed

04:01 to provide better insights, to training regimes and the wellbeing and performance of athletes.

04:12 At my stage, chemistry was much more of a standalone discipline,

04:17 but now it’s an interactive discipline, whether it’s interacting with physics,

04:22 material science, and in my case, biomedicine.

04:25 It is now entering those fields and demonstrating to those fields how powerful it is,

04:32 but because the mindset of chemists can help unravel the complexities of our natural world

04:38 in a way that we couldn’t fathom in those days, and now chemists entering applied worlds,

04:44 and so we can problem solve, and more importantly,

04:49 we’re having impending crises, of global warming, of energy limitation, of clean living

04:57 and chemists are beginning to make huge inroads into those areas.

05:05 Are you switched on by research and enquiry, or are you actually switched on more about delivering

05:12 practical things for society; in my context, healthcare,

05:16 and you’re at a crossroads and then you can make that decision that armed with that

05:21 granite, fundamental stone of chemistry you have the power to make that decision,

05:27 in a much, much more informed way, but there’s a deeper level.

05:32 It is the level that you achieve even though you might have forgotten all the chemistry you’ve learned,

05:38 it is a way of thinking, and that way of thinking translates across all sorts of disciplines.

05:44 Whatever the final career is, ultimately chemistry is there to solve the puzzle

05:50 of how molecules and atoms actually interact and work, and I think that’s what chemistry gives you.

05:56 Beyond that, chemistry doesn’t commit you to chemistry per se, it opens up many, many doors beyond chemistry.

“Chemistry is a way of thinking, and that thinking translates across all sorts of disciplines whatever the final career is. ”

How did I get started?

I did medicine at Newcastle University and then moved into laboratory medicine, but my boss at the time thought junior doctors knew too little science and so I was sent to do a chemistry degree!

Career progression

My career had a quirky pathway, as I was never quite a doctor but also never quite a chemist. I was headhunted by Imperial Chemical Industries, which changed my career from being an NHS pathologist to being a researcher and since then I've expanded on my biomedical research.

“I owe chemistry a great deal of what I've managed to achieve in my career. ”