Never forget that humility is the mark of greatness
Welcome to The Short Read, our weekly peek behind the curtain at the people who make this amazing community tick. Make sure to check back every Tuesday for the latest installment.

Michael Hubank

Michael Hubank, PhD, Head of Clinical Genomics, Royal Marsden Hospital 

Mike Hubank is Head of Clinical Genomics (Research) at the Royal Marsden Hospital, with an honorary Readership in Translational Genomics at the Institute for Cancer Research, London. He leads the Molecular Diagnostics translational research team, establishing new genomics assays, and developing and applying diagnostic testing for clinical trials and research studies across the cancer field.

Dr. Hubank previously led UCL Genomics for 16 years, contributing to many publications in fields ranging from cancer to metagenomics. He is particularly interested in implementing genomic testing for circulating tumour DNA in a clinically relevant setting.

Mike will be speaking at the Festival of Genomics London in January 2018. He will be participating in the panel ‘Can we fully integrate genomics into the NHS within 5 years?’ Register for free to hear Mike’s panel session as well as sessions from key influencers within the industry.

What are you working on right now? 

Right now we are trying to overcome the obstacles necessary to place genomics at the centre of all diagnostic clinical pathology at the Royal Marsden.  Also, good diagnostics means not wasting data. A genomic test may currently yield only 10% applicable findings. We are working with data scientists at the ICR to ensure that the other 90% is recycled back into research to drive the next generation of treatment and testing. We need to view application and research as the same process.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work at the moment? 

It is the logistical challenge of implementing the right genomic methods for the appropriate clinical samples, accurately, reliably, cost-effectively and within a meaningful timeframe. Getting all that right is the key to a successful genomics-based clinical diagnostics future.

Name one big development that you would like to see in your field in the next 18 months. 

Above all, I would like to see plasma DNA based testing become mainstream. We are already doing this for a focussed subset of tests. It should be available to everyone, everywhere. To achieve this aim, we need to work with providers to reduce costs and improve methods.

What are you most proud of in your career? 

We had a great team at UCL Genomics and we contributed specialist expertise to a lot of really excellent basic science from researchers across a spectrum of fields from infection to cancer. But I’d much rather look to the future. Genomics is coming of age as an applied science.  A comprehensive, genomics-based clinical diagnostics system would have huge potential benefits for cancer care. If I can help bring that about, it would be well worth the effort.

Which scientist, living, dead, or fictional, would you invite to dinner, and why? 

I spend too much time with real scientists as it is, so I’ll invite Crake from Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. The novel is about hubris. Crake epitomises the dangers of living in a scientific bubble where it is easy to convince ourselves that we know what is best for everyone. For all its promise, genomics also has the potential for abuse. A sense of perspective is important, and we need to stay aware of the ethical and societal consequences of the research we do. Crake’s impact on the world is devastating, but he remains a rather shadowy figure, and over our ChickieNobs Bucket O’ Nubbins, I’d like to delve a little deeper into why he turned out the way he did. Maybe it will help me spot the signs in time!

What advice do you wish someone had given to you at the start of your career? 

A former boss once advised me to “just do good science”. He was right, but unfortunately, that isn’t enough. You need to find a niche in which to do it.  Don’t be disheartened if you don’t find it straight away. Be prepared to try new things and don’t get bogged down in a field where you will never be able to make a difference. When you find your niche, give it everything.

The Festival of Genomics London 2018 is a free to attend event, register online to secure your pass today!

Opinions and views expressed in The Short Read are the interviewee’s and not those of the home institution

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