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Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow starts at IGFS

A big welcome to Dr Simon Cameron, who has been awarded a prestigious Vice-Chancellor’s Fellowship – one of only nine awarded across the University in the latest round.

Dr Cameron has recently relocated to IGFS and the School of Biological Sciences from Imperial College London, where he was working as a post-doctoral research fellow.

His background is in microbiology but recent years have seen him explore mass spectrometry, under the guidance of Professor Zoltan Takats (as many readers will know, Prof Takats is now a part-time member of staff at IGFS and the inventor of the ‘iKnife’ REIMS research system, housed in the ASSET lab).

Dr Cameron’s research specialism is human milk, specifically how breast milk influences the microbiome of an infant’s gut. He aims to investigate a wide range of questions around the milk – does the nutrient quality of the mother’s milk deteriorate around the time the baby reaches six months in line with received wisdom? How does it vary from person to person? Does the diet of the mother, particularly during pregnancy, have a bearing? How do drugs affect milk supply and can they be safely administered to breast-feeding mothers? What are the differences in infant microbiome between breast-fed and formula-fed babies?

“Human milk is so complex,” he enthuses. “There are proteins, lipids, metabolites to consider and that’s before you even begin to look at the baby microbiome. It’s phenomenally interesting.”

In his three-year Fellowship (which will normally lead into a permanent lectureship), Dr Cameron will work with the Hearts Milk Bank outside London – there is no donor breast-milk bank in Belfast and only one in Northern Ireland, in the Western HSCT, although recruitment of breast-milk donors more locally may be incorporated into Dr Cameron’s research in the future - and also with IGFS colleagues from the Nutrition group at the Centre for Public Health, at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

In some ways, he stumbled into the area of human milk, after an early career path focussed on cancer research.

Having grown up in Banbury in Oxfordshire, he did his primary degree in Biology and Bioinformatics, at Aberystwyth University in Wales and remained at Aber to do a PhD in respiratory cancer, focussing on the microbiome of the lung.

As a post-doc at Imperial College, where he worked for over three years, he developed an interest in mass spectrometry and seized an opportunity to work on a breast-milk research project with a Wellcome Trust-funded organisation called the ‘Parenting Science Gang’ – a group dedicated to providing parents with scientific evidence upon which to base decisions.

Now he’s committed to exploring the microbiology of breast milk and contributing to a robust evidence base in a field where data has been, Dr Cameron remarks, often lacking. We wish him luck and look forward to hearing outputs at the earliest opportunity!

You can find out more about Vice-Chancellor’s Fellowships here.