Sian Ellard

Sian Ellard

Sian Ellard is a Professor of Human Molecular Genetics based at the Research, Innovation, Learning and Development building, a joint enterprise with the Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Foundation Trust. Sian co-leads Exeter’s world-leading genetic diabetes team, alongside Professor Andrew Hattersley. Among their achievements, they discovered that around half of patients with neonatal diabetes - which is diagnosed before the age of six months - can be spared a lifetime of injecting themselves with insulin up to five times a day. Instead they simply take tablets which results in more effective glucose control treatment. The team identified suitable patients for this treatment by making a rapid genetic diagnosis to find those whose diabetes is caused by changes in a potassium channel that regulates insulin secretion.

Unsurprisingly, this pioneering research marks one of Sian’s proudest professional achievements. She says: “At our neonatal diabetes family days I’ve been able to meet patients and their families whose lives have changed because of our research. They have travelled from as far as Puerto Rica, Alaska and Australia and to hear at first hand how their diabetes is better and more easily controlled on tablets, rather than insulin, is incredibly rewarding.”

Sian, who came to Exeter in 1995 to set up a Molecular Genetics Laboratory, says the theme of International Women’s Day 2015 to her means “Equality, whether defined by gender, disability, religion or anything else is an essential step towards a better world for all its citizens.”

Earlier this month she was awarded a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award, a prestigious national award for outstanding scientists.

Sian says she “hugely admires” the actress Angelina Jolie, whom she says “has done an incredible job by publicly sharing her decision to have prophylactic surgery to reduce her risk of breast and ovarian cancer. By speaking out and sharing her experience she has reached thousands of women who would not otherwise have sought medical advice.”

A long list of people and activities bring Sian joy, including “skiing fresh powder in the sunshine”. Her advice to others would be the ethic of reciprocity, as she explains “treat others as you would like others to treat you.”