Spotlight on Peter Andrews
22 November 2018
This week, the Spotlight is on Peter Andrews, Associate Professor of Rhinology at the UCL EAR Institute. Peter is a joint MSc programme director on the Otology and Audiology MSc course and jointly coordinates the imaging module.
What does your role involve?
My role at the UCL EAR Institute involves leading on nose-related research and teaching. I have a particular interest in improving the surgical treatment of smell loss as well as looking at ways of improving the measurement of nasal blockage and this complements well my other role of being a consultant surgeon at the Royal National Throat Nose and Ear Hospital (RNTNEH)/University College London Hospital (UCLH) and the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN).
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I’m a UCL alumnus and I trained as a medical student here. UCL has always looked after my career; both as a medical student and during my intercalated BSc year, and now as an academic. Importantly my intercalated BSc year enabled me to enter into the world of research and nerve regeneration. I have always enjoyed teaching, particularly surgery, and this has enabled me to help set up two of the most popular short courses at the UCL EAR institute; the Rhinoplasty and Facial Plastic Reconstruction course and the FRCS (ORL-NHS) Intercollegiate revision course.
How I became interested in noses has always been asked of me and the answer seems to centre around the concept that ‘it’s not fully understood’ and needs much more exploring.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
In my career to date I’m particularly proud of being part of the busiest rhinology department in England; however there is a caveat ‘it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re the best' (although if we are the busiest, surely patients prefer to come to us for their surgery!)
The nose is challenging because when it misbehaves it relies massively on what the patient 'feels and says’ and unlike as we do with ears, we do not have a ‘hearing test’ equivalent to help with the assessment of the nose. Therefore it’s very difficult to really quantify how much a patient is suffering particularly with loss of smell or nasal blockage and this is ultimately the challenge in doing research on the nose and sinuses.
In 2013 we performed a septorhinoplasty procedure (nasal airway straightening procedure) on a patient with a complete loss of smell and then following surgery he was able to smell again. The patient was ecstatic as he had lost his sense of smell for many years and in affect 'given up'. As with lots of things in ‘science' we hadn’t performed this operation in order to improve his sense of smell but instead, to improve the patient's nasal airway (which we also did). This story reached national press which then set me on a pathway to explore how we achieved this 'sense of smell' restoration. We now run a MD/PhD programme at the UCL EAR Institute looking into this.
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?
There are two research projects on my to-do list which will hopefully help towards solving the above conundrums. The first is to look at measuring the acoustic properties of the nose and see whether we can come up with a ‘hearing test’ equivalent for the nose. This has been a fascinating journey and enabled me to collaborate with my Biomedical engineering UCL colleague Dr Terence Leung to explore this further and has also allowed us to fund our own PhD student.
The second research project is looking at ways of improving the surgical treatment of smell loss. I have always been very frustrated in my rhinology career with the lack of options for patients with a loss of smell particularly knowing that the olfactory system is the only part of the central nervous system which can regenerate! Interestingly this particular olfactory regenerating ability has enabled me to collaborate with my neurosurgical colleague Professor David Choi who's also looking at ways to improve nerve regeneration.
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
Album, Leftism by Leftfield. Film, Jaws. Novel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
A man tells the doctor, 'Doc, I’m addicted to Twitter!'
Doc replies, 'Sorry, I don’t follow you.'
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
Keanu Reeves, Juliet Stevenson, my wife, my parents.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Family is the most important thing and everything else fits around them, listen and act on advice from your elders.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
I am the Year 3 PTA representative for the primary school that my youngest attends because my wife, Julie Andrews, told me to do it. I have duties like being a Father Christmas and organising a barn dance for this year (full disclosure; I’m one of a team of four other dads).
What is your favourite place?
Kew Gardens, my wife and children took me there recently for a significant birthday. I have amazing childhood memories of walking through the giant trees.