Professor Robert Pawlak is the Chair in Functional Cell Biology with UEMS.          .

Professor Robert Pawlak

Research News features a member of staff from the University in each edition, allowing you to find out more about members of the research community.

In this edition we feature Professor Pawlak who has recently led a study into the 'trauma switch'. 

What do you hope to achieve at Exeter?

I was attracted to Exeter because of the University’s standing, its commitment to excellence and exciting developments within the College of Medicine and Health.

The plans to erect the new interdisciplinary research building at the Streatham campus also sound fabulous. I hope to help build a world-class neuroscience division here and work together with colleagues from Biosciences and Physics to strengthen the cross-disciplinary aspect of our research.

How has your background helped to shape the research you undertake?

There is an educational and cultural aspect of it. I am a physician by education and although it has certain disadvantages for a basic researcher it gives me a broader perspective and helps develop translational aspects of my research.

I am Polish by origin and have conducted research in Poland, Japan, the United States and for the last eight years in the UK. Thus, I was able to learn from diverse research cultures (sometimes conceptually and philosophically opposite!), adapt their experimental approaches and use this experience to run my own laboratory.

How do you think the Living Systems Building will influence your research?

The Living Systems Building has been designed to bring about a qualitative change to the type of research conducted at the University. This flagship initiative will be instrumental in bridging the gap between theoretical and experimental approaches and will result in better understanding of complex biological problems at the systems level.
A unique blend of researchers with different research backgrounds and interests will certainly reshape our way of thinking and hopefully result in new breakthrough discoveries.

What do you think the future holds in the treatment of stress-related conditions?

I expect the post-genomic era will bring major breakthroughs in this respect. The next step is to understand the principles and mechanisms behind the dynamic cellular processes in health and their abnormalities in disease at the protein level.

To decipher that we need a coordinated effort of neuroscientists, biochemists, mathematicians and clinicians – this is where the Living Systems Building and associated initiatives will come to play.

How is stress disorder research perceived by the public? Is this something you see changing?

The public recognizes it at something extremely important. I get a constant stream of letters from patients suffering from severe forms of anxiety or depression hoping to get help, and it is really sad to have to disappoint them. The spectrum of stress-related disorders is very broad and diverse; they have a major impact on our lives and the British economy.

I can see an encouraging change in the healthcare and grant funding policies with mental disorders being recognized as one of the major challenges to address.

What makes you tick?

In no particular order - a clear-cut set of experiments showing something novel and important, Asian food, my wife and children.