UCL School of Life and Medical Sciences


Daniyal Jafree

Spirit of SLMS Winner (Scientific Excellence & Leadership)

Daniyal is a student of the UCL MBPhD programme, integrating a PhD into his MBBS Medicine degree.

Tell us a bit about your research.

My journey at UCL has been influenced by some incredible mentors. My research interest lies somewhere between the basic sciences and clinical practice, largely thanks to Professor Andrew Copp at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health.

As part of an integrated BSc (iBSc) supported by Kidney Research UK, we studied renal development in spina bifida, in the context of understanding if early intervention for spina bifida could have benefits on renal tract function in these patients. In parallel with this, Professor Joanna Zakrzewska at the UCL Eastman Dental Institute opened up the world of clinical research to me. Since 2015, we’ve conducted several projects into the diagnosis, surgical management and genetics of facial pain syndromes such as trigeminal neuralgia. Together, the work from these projects, and others both within and outside UCL, have motivated me to pursue a career as a clinician-scientist.

My current research focusses on lymphatic vessels and their relevance in kidney development and disease, under the guidance of Dr David Long and Professor Peter Scambler at UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health. I collaborate with some truly excellent scientists and mathematicians at UCL’s Centre for Advanced Biological Imaging and the Mechanical Engineering Department. We have also teamed up with Professor Adrian Woolf from the University of Manchester and Professor Paul Riley from the University of Oxford, both experts in renal and cardiovascular sciences.

We combine developmental biology and genetics with novel imaging techniques to understand the origin and function of lymphatic vessels in the kidney. We ultimately aim to play a part in establishing a platform for lymphatic-based therapies for chronic kidney disease.

What have been some of the great milestones and/or achievements for you during your time at UCL?

One highlight for me was the summer of 2015. I joined a lab in the Institute of Physiology at the University of Zurich, studying mucosal-bacterial interactions in gastrointestinal immunity. I learned a lot about science during these nine weeks in Switzerland. It was here that I started to better appreciate the need for research into the basic sciences (and that it doesn’t always need to have immediate clinical applications!).

Another memorable moment was my iBSc experience. By analysing different mouse models of spina bifida, we found evidence for a novel genetic contribution to renal tract development. This was very lucky, seeing as I only had seven and a half weeks of allocated lab time! I’m extremely grateful and lucky to be awarded the UCL Faculty of Medical Sciences Dean’s Research Prize for this, and to go on to present this work at the American Society of Nephrology’s annual conference in Chicago back in 2016, which is what got me interested in the biology of the kidney.

More recently, being accepted onto UCL’s MBPhD programme was a massive milestone. I work in an incredible team of clinicians, scientists and those between, and have the greatest possible supervisors in David and Pete. To be given protected time to pursue my own research questions is invaluable. I would highly recommend the programme for any medical students with an interest in research and an inquisitive mind.

Overall, over the last three years, I’ve produced 14 peer reviewed publications and 6 conference abstracts with 37 citations and over 95,000 online downloads, delivered 17 presentations at national and international conferences and won 18 awards and prizes. None of this would be possible without the incredible opportunities available at UCL and the support I’ve received over the years from colleagues, friends and family.

What role do you think public engagement of science plays in wider society?

I do not believe that research ends after presentations at academic conferences or publication in journals. There are many benefits of public engagement in science. These include direct benefits to the public, such as education, or indirect benefits, such as improvement of healthcare and other industries.

Science itself plays an important role in culture and shapes the way we see and interpret the world around us. Mutual interactions between the public and scientists can help to shape the way we do research, to better tailor science for the needs of society. After all, what is the point of science that is not understood by the group of people that we ultimately aim to serve? As a whole, I think there is still much more we can do to engage the public in scientific research.

Top 3 places/things to do in London?

  • Everyone with an interest in science must see the Francis Crick Institute. Externally the architecture and grandeur are astounding. I recently had a meeting there, and it’s mind-blowing to walk inside and see the magnitude of labs stacked on either side of the building, connected by towering glass bridges. It looks like something out of Star Trek.
  • The National History Museum is also one of my top places to see. Stepping in there is like taking a step back in time. I’ve lost count of the number of times I visited as a child. I used to be obsessed with dinosaurs - at the age of 6 I could recognise and name far more than I can remember.
  • I would also recommend trying an escape room. I recently tried one with my friends. We had a one hour time limit to work as a team and solve puzzles in order to get ourselves out of the scenario. I love a good puzzle and it’s so rewarding to solve something cryptic with good company. Admittedly though, we were pretty useless at it and need far more practice.

What would surprise people about you?

My daily 60+ mile commute tends to surprise people. I live in Ashford, Kent, and catch the high-speed train to and from King’s Cross St. Pancras every day. The busy morning trains can be a bit of a pain but it sometimes takes me less time to get into work compared to my colleagues, who live in London themselves!