Ada Teo

MB-PhD student,
Clinical Pharmacology Unit, University of Cambridge

How did you become interested in research relating to Hypertension and Cardiovascular Disease?

Having embarked on research in various labs since the age of 14, I am certain of my passion for research and the intellectual curiosity that drives it. At the same time, clinical experience in the hospital has shown me what a real privilege it is to be able to make a difference to patients’ lives. It is this very same commitment to patient care that made me apply to medical school. And for that purpose, considering the prevalence of the condition, research on Hypertension and Cardiovascular Disease has the greatest potential to impact our way of life.

Describe your research & the program/lab (info of your supervisor) that you are in?

My research focuses on the molecular genetics of hypertension, in particular primary aldosteronism and the discovery of contributory genes and mutations. For the PhD component of the Cambridge MB-PhD programme, I joined the lab of Professor Morris Brown in 2013, and it has been an excellent environment in which to hone my intellectual curiosity and scientific rigour. Our lab focuses on adrenal causes of high blood pressure, enabling both clinical insight and research expertise to be elegantly intertwined, with our patients benefiting from, and contributing to, research into their hypertension.

What do you consider to be your substantial scientific contribution so far (provide Pubmed PMID if possible)?

My most significant contribution thus far is the discovery of pregnancy-unmasked primary aldosteronism and its phenotype-genotype correlation

(Teo et al, N Engl J Med 2015;373(15):1429-36. Pubmed PMID: 26397949).

I look forward to contributing more articles in the field soon!

What is your favourite manuscript from a lab or mentor other than your own (provide Pubmed PMID if possible)?

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the 2011 paper in Science by Choi et al (Kchannel mutations in adrenal aldosterone-producing adenomas and hereditary hypertension, Pubmed PMID: 21311022). Considered one of the landmark papers in our field, this work led to a whole new era of tumour genotyping and the elucidation of many more causative mutations that characterise this condition.

Where do your research strengths lie? Why? What are your research weaknesses? How will you improve?

I believe my training as an MB-PhD student has brought a unique perspective to my study of human disease and hypertension, as well as allowing me to anticipate possible challenges in implementing novel therapies. This strong translational focus in my research is something that I hope to continue pursuing in my career as a clinician-scientist. Being the current Editor-in-Chief of the Cambridge Medicine Journal, I also have some experience in the editorial review process.

In terms of weakness, I would benefit from greater knowledge of bioinformatics and statistics, both of which will be invaluable in a research career. I am currently making full use of the extensive resources we have here in Cambridge (such as the various EMBL-EBI training courses) to equip myself with these skills.

Describe your unforgettable (proudest) moment in science, and the most challenging situation that you have had to overcome (lessons learnt) so far?

Perhaps my proudest moment in science was when I received the news that my first-author paper was accepted for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine. It was indeed an indescribable feeling when you see that the project you’ve been leading and the team’s collaborative effort has come to fruition! I owe this to my mentor and friend Prof Morris Brown for his unwavering support.

The most challenging situation that I have had to overcome was when a frequently-used radioimmunoassay was to be discontinued, and we raced against time to come up with a comparable alternative. It was challenging, but we persevered, and as a team, managed to switch almost seamlessly to the new assay and prevent this change from slowing down our progress.

At which conference did you first present? How was your experience?

My first oral presentation was at the Joint Meeting of the European Society of Hypertension and International Society of Hypertension in Athens (June 2014). I benefited tremendously from it, got plenty of feedback on my talk, made use of the abundant networking opportunities as well as being inspired by pioneers in the field. Overall, it was a fantastic experience.

How did you learn about ISH/NIN and its activities?

I learned about the ISH through my mentor Prof Morris Brown, as well as during the above-mentioned meeting in Athens. I am excited to be a part of this organization.

What area(s) do you wish to specialize in the future?

I hope to pursue a career as an endocrinologist, in what I believe to be one of the most thoughtful disciplines.  At the same time, I am seeking opportunities to carry out translational research that will serve me well in both my clinical work as well as academically as a clinician-scientist. Considering my background in primary aldosteronism, I am particularly interested in adrenal pathologies and their contribution to hypertension, but will keep an open mind as I’m still at the very early stages of my career!

Who is your role model in Science? Why?

Being at Cambridge, I am surrounded by world-renowned researchers and key contributors in Science. But my role model is undoubtedly my mentor and friend Prof Morris Brown, who is one of the most esteemed doctors and investigators in the field of Hypertension.

Being always highly supportive of his students, Prof Brown has taught me to challenge myself and to think creatively and originally about my research. His insatiable curiosity and dedication to his work has inspired me tremendously, and I hope to one day be able to emulate his success at balancing clinical and research work.

What are your scientific goals? Advise for talented emerging scientists?

I hope to continue to contribute to the field of primary aldosteronism and secondary hypertension, both clinically and academically as a clinician-scientist. I am excited by the possibility of predictive genotyping to pursue the goal of eventually developing therapies for hypertension stratified to different patient groups.

My advice for emerging scientists would be to take the initiative and teach whenever the opportunity arises, be it an undergraduate or another PhD student – never underestimate how much you can glean from teaching others. But most importantly, love what you do!