Spotlight on... Professor Alastair Sutcliffe
18 May 2023
This week we meet Alastair Sutcliffe, Professor of General Paediatrics, who was recently given a Points of Light Award by the Prime Minister for his work helping Ukrainian children. Here, he chats to us about his research – and the Marmara Sea.
What is your role and what does it involve?
Hello everyone, I am a Professor of General Paediatrics at the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health. I am also a Hon Consultant Paediatrician and do some (modest amounts of ) clinical work.
My main day job activities involve supervising a very bright team of both clinical and non-clinical scientists, who are at various stages of career progression – I also do my fair share of teaching. We are interested in the interface between women and child health and have conducted many studies regarding outcomes of fertility treatments and are now studying sub-fertile adults too. 2.2% of children born in the UK are born after such treatments, and this is increasing year on year.
My other work is quite exciting. I have co-invented a pessary gel, and we are now getting very close to being able to do the first in women trials. The gel is primarily designed to treat bacterial vaginosis. However, in the long term, I am hoping it will be a treatment which will reduce rates of premature birth due to ascending infection (about 30% of premature births) worldwide. Now that would be something! We have a spinout company to take that forward.
I've also set up a major research network to address the many unanswered questions about children in general paediatric care.
How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?
I came to UCL originally via an appointment at the Royal Free Hospital Medical School some 28 years ago. I did my last year of training before obtaining a lecturer, and then senior lecturer, post. Prior to that, I was in Manchester (my Alma Mater) and hail from Keswick originally.
What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?
I am proud of being made a Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (FRCOG, ad eundem) last year, a rare award for a children’s doctor, and more recently getting the Beacon of Light Award from our Prime Minister for leading the work of setting up, with colleagues, an entirely voluntary free clinic for child refugees from Ukraine.
Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?
The pessary gel work has proved a ‘mare’ as despite really superlative scientific reviews, the first in women study is as yet unfunded. This has led me on a journey of getting input from the wealthy via share offers. We are finally close to success, but I am busy trying to get that over the line!
What is your favourite album, film and novel?
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is a hard read but a fantastic study of human weaknesses in thought process. My eldest went to study at his university, so I wrote to him thanking him for his book, and although a Nobel Prize winner, he wrote back.
What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?
The man who invented the umbrella was going to call it brella; then he hesitated.
Who would be your dream dinner guests?
Daniel Kahneman, Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. would be a great talking shop.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Beware of Machiavellian figures, jealousy is a common motivation in your profession.
What would it surprise people to know about you?
I speak Turkish – alleged to be the hardest language in the Indo-European group – and am married to a lovely Turkish rheumatologist, who I call Patron (aka boss in Turkish, with apologies to French).
What is your favourite place?
Moda Cay Bahce, overlooking the Marmara Sea – great vista and nice to chill at.