Researcher in Spotlight – Christos Gkogkas

In our website feature “Researcher in Spotlight” this month we ask our researcher Christos Gkogkas to tell us a bit more about himself.

Could you give us a quick overview of your background and career so far?

I got my BSc from the Biology Department at the University of Athens, Greece and then went on to do an MSc by Research in Neuroinformatics, followed by a PhD in Neurobiology at the University of Edinburgh.

I then did a postdoc at McGill University in Montreal, Canada in neuroscience and biochemistry of translational control. Soon after I was appointed as a Chancellor’s Fellow at the Patrick Wild Centre and the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. Currently I have a Sir Henry Dale Wellcome Trust/Royal Society Fellowship.

How did you become interested in your current field of research?

For my postdoc I worked in the lab where eIF4E, the cap-binding protein and protein synthesis initiation factor was first discovered. Being a neuroscientist in a cancer biology/biochemistry department, I quickly realised that for several protein synthesis regulatory pathways, which were well studied in cancer and immunology, our understanding of their role in the brain is incomplete and in some cases very poor. At that point in time, I knew that my independent research would focus on understanding how protein synthesis is regulated in the brain, in particular in neuropsychiatric/neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and depression.

What are you currently working on and what importance does your work have for autism research?

We focus on understanding how changes in gene expression at the level of translational control in different cells of the brain can be causal for the spectrum of behavioural alterations observed in autism. We use biochemical, electrophysiological and behavioural tools in rodent models to monitor these causal changes at high resolution. By understanding those processes we hope to design innovative therapeutics for neuropsychiatric/neurodevelopmental disorders.

What do you enjoy most about scientific research?

Tackling difficult concepts and understanding complex processes in biological systems, such as the brain, is a rewarding and highly enjoyable process.

Moreover, designing and carrying out experiments and interacting with other scientists is the part of scientific research that I enjoy the most.

What do you like about the scientific community in Edinburgh?

Edinburgh is a great place to do science and one of the many reasons is that most senior researchers cast a protective net over young investigators and allow them to develop their independent research programme, while at the same time they offer great opportunities for mentorship, collaboration and personal development.

What is your favourite high tech research tool?

Ribosome footprinting coupled with RNA sequencing. This technique combines a classic RNAse protection assay with the power of Deep Sequencing and provided invaluable information about ribosomes, mRNAs and translational control. This technique has transformed our understanding of gene expression in various systems.

What is your favourite low tech research tool?

NCBI BLAST – I think it is the most useful and fun to use tool to work your way from DNA/RNA/protein sequences to biological hypotheses and to new ideas.

Where do you usually get the best ideas for your research?

By interacting with scientists from other disciplines. With my mixed background in Informatics and Biology I have been able to interact with scientists from both fields and thus get a fresh perspective on hypotheses, theories and problems I may have with my research.

What is your hidden talent? 

I have been playing basketball since the age of 5 and was a point guard for my School and University teams. I can score a three pointer wearing a blindfold.