Researcher in Spotlight – Stuart Cobb

in our website feature “Researcher in Spotlight” this month we ask our researcher Stuart Cobb to tell us a bit more about himself

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

I graduated in Pharmacology from the University of Glasgow, having studied the first part of my degree at Queen’s University, Canada. I then moved to the University of Oxford to conduct early studies on the role of interneurons in brain oscillations. I continued to work on circuits during postdoctoral research with Professor Ceri Davies in Edinburgh before returning to Glasgow as a research fellow and then lecturer. During this time, I developed an interest in synaptic and network dysfunction underlying brain disorders and my laboratory has become increasing molecular and genetics focused over the years. In November 2017 I was fortunate to have the opportunity to move my research group to the Patrick Wild Centre to join the vibrant research environment within Edinburgh Neuroscience.

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

I did not study advanced biology when at school, so although interested in science generally, biology came rather late to me. As an undergraduate, I became increasingly fascinated by the brain. My move into autism research was triggered by an out-of-the blue phone call from Adrian Bird many years ago. The gene therapy work took off when I became a founding member of a consortium of gene therapy labs.

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

Almost all my effort is currently devoted to developing novel molecular therapies for neurodevelopmental disorders. The most advanced work is on a gene therapy for Rett syndrome. Whilst at an earlier stage, my group is also developing gene therapy and mutation bypass options in other related autism disorders.

What do you enjoy most about scientific research?

I find neuroscience research rewarding on many fronts. From a reverse engineering perspective, the brain is endlessly fascinating. I like the problem-solving associated with creating molecular tools to correct brain disorders. An especially rewarding aspect is the fact that my research might one day result in therapeutic options for brain disorders such as Rett syndrome.

What do you like about the scientific community in Edinburgh?

Having just arrived, I would say that the vibrant atmosphere and collaborative environment is what strikes me most. Beyond that there are also the fantastic facilities. Having been here for just a few months, I am already growing a web of collaborations spanning the city.

What is your favourite high tech research tool?

I am very excited by our new collaboration with the Edinburgh Genome Foundry. This unique platform enables the design, manufacture and testing of complex genetic reagents on a completely revolutionary scale. What makes me most excited is not the technology itself but rather the freedom it gives to devise ambitious yet simple experiments.

What is your favourite low tech research tool?

As a lab we have been trying to migrate to electronic lab books and systems. However, my trusted hard-bound notebook remains valuable for jotting down ideas and lists. I’d be lost without it.

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

Seminars, reading papers etc. However, the most fertile time I find is bouncing ideas within our research group and with collaborators. Whilst the actual questions/experiments are whittled down to the most pertinent, we have the policy that no idea is too whacky to at least discuss!

What is your hidden talent?

Urgh… I enjoy a variety of activities and sports, especially winter sports, but would not say I am especially talented at any. Quite the opposite in fact. I have even end up in hospital with a snooker injury!