Thursday was another landmark day for the lab; John “John” Knox defended his doctoral thesis at his viva voce. We can proudly say that there’s a new Dr Knox in town!
JohnJohn’s PhD research was all centred around the progressive eye disease glaucoma. Glaucoma is highly prevalent disorder affecting approximately 2% of over 40s and is one of the leading causes of blindness in the UK. One of the main drivers of the disorder is a build up of the pressure within the eye. This is why this pressure gets measured during routine eye exams at the opticians. That pressure comes from the fluid within the eye and a key reason why the pressure can increase is that there is a blockage in the drainage system within the eye that prevents the excess fluid from being released.
JeanJean’s work has investigated the molecular mechanism behind the formation of the blockage and then used that information to identify new potential ways to prevent it from happening or to slow the build up. Specifically in his three main research chapters, he has identified how the cells of drainage area (the trabecular meshwork) respond to the main cytokine that drives production of the extracellular matrix gunk that fills the drainage system. Using that information, he identified a new target that was consistently dysregulated across multiple donors, then performed cells in a dish studies which confirmed that if we can mimic the action of this target then we can help the trabecular meshwork cells return to normal. He also characterised a new murine model of open angle glaucoma. His studies in this area suggest that this new model better mimics some of the main aspects of the disease progression and therefore will provide a valuable platform for onward investigation of the disease and also, importantly, provides the right platform to test the new therapeutic interventions like the one that has come from his molecular work. All in all, a really excellent body of work and JuanJuan should be rightfully proud.
It’s always a big day when someone finishes their work. For the student (and their supervisory family), the viva is that day. It is the cumulation of almost 5 years of work boiled down into a 3 hour grilling by respected experts in the field. In this case Prof Colm O’Brien from UCD and Dr Carl Sheridan. Johan’s supervisors, Prof Colin Willoughby, Prof George Bou Gharios and myself have trained him to a position where we knew he was ready, but he still has to perform! And he did!
The viva is a coming-of-age type event. As a supervisor, we’re always really proud to see our students complete their studies. They’re ready to be released into the world as a newly fledged member of the academy.
In COVID times we have lost some of the in-person element of the viva experience. Celebrations were more muted than normal. However, we were pleased to be able to head out for dinner with some of the lab team yesterday, the first Hamill lab group event for what feels like forever!
John posted a few blog over the years, check some of them out below