UCL News


Spotlight on Professor Geoff Burnstock

30 May 2017

This week the spotlight is on Professor Geoff Burnstock, President of the UCL Autonomic Neuroscience Centre, UCL Biosciences.

Geoff Burnstock

What is your role and what does it involve?

I am currently the President of the UCL Autonomic Neuroscience Centre at the Royal Free campus, but I am now 88 years old and after 42 years working at UCL, I will be returning to Australia on 10 November, where I have been warmly welcomed to continue to work at the University of Melbourne. 

I have much enjoyed working with many gifted and charming colleagues at UCL. I am proud to have served on Council and other college and faculty committees, to have focused on translational research, in collaboration with clinicians and the drug industry, to develop several therapeutic drugs. 

I hope to continue being creative in the few years that remain. So I say farewell to the many friends I have made at UCL over the years and hope that some of them will visit me in Australia in the future. 

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I was a PhD student, supervised by JZ Young in 1956/57.

I was appointed as Head of the Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology following the exceptional leadership of JZ Young in 1975, after serving as Head of the Department of Zoology at the University of Melbourne. 

After stepping down from the Headship of Anatomy in 1997, I was appointed as the Director of the Autonomic Neuroscience Centre at the Royal Free campus. I was made an Emeritus Professor in 2004, when I was 75, but have continued to work full-time as President of the Autonomic Neuroscience Centre until today.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

The discovery of purinergic signalling in 1970. After initial resistance, it is now widely accepted and major therapeutic applications are arising from the discovery (e.g. clopidogrel for thrombosis and stroke, treatment for dry eye, visceral pain, chronic cough, hypertension, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer).

Also, the personal supervision of 106 PhD and MD students, the award of the Royal Society Queen's Gold Medal in 2000 and that I have 101,396 citations with an h-index of 141 (Google Scholar).

Tell us about a project you are working on now that is top of your to-do list.

I am currently collaborating with international groups concerned with the role of purinergic signalling in autism, embryological development and obesity.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Album: Benny Goodman Trio.

Film: Casablanca.

Novel: L'Étranger by Albert Camus.

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

A true anecdote about a boy of eight who told his mother that he must be dressed as a prawn for a school event. His mother made a vivid costume, but at the event it turned out that he should have been dressed as a pawn, related to the chess theme of the event. Nevertheless, he was cheered for his unique appearance.  

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Albert Einstein, Patrick White and my dad (long deceased). 

What advice would you give your younger self?

Show courage to question established doctrines.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

That I am a keen wood sculptor and that I was enthusiastic in my youth to be a great flamenco guitar player (although I never succeeded!).

What is your favourite place?

Our beach house in New Zealand.