Meet the Researcher: Dr Victoria Salem by Emily Burns

VickySalem_200x200Dr Victoria Salem, at Imperial College London, was recently awarded our first ever Harry Keen Intermediate Clinical Fellowship. She’ll be using the fellowship to explore whether it might be possible to recreate the effects of bariatric surgery (gastric bypass) using combinations of gut hormones.


I asked Dr Salem to give us some insight into her life in and out of the lab coat.

Where it all began

Victoria explains, “I started off as a trainee, and was very fortunate to get the Medical Research Council’s clinical fellowship, which means I was funded to come out of my training programme with the NHS and do a PhD.

At the end of my PhD, I was successful enough to be able to apply for the NIHR (National Institute for Health Research) clinical lectureship, and that meant I could spend half of my time continuing with my research and half of my time finishing off my specialist training as a consultant diabetologist.

I’m very grateful to the NIHR, because that period where I was able to develop my research allowed me to competitively apply for Diabetes UK’s hugely prestigious fellowship.

During the course of this Harry Keen fellowship, I’ll complete my specialist training and take up a consultant position. My interests will remain in the field of complex Type 2 diabetes, working closely with the bariatric unit. Bariatric surgery is a very effective treatment for people with obesity and diabetes, but it’s still a niche treatment option.”

Supporting passionate people

“As a consultant diabetologist, the NHS will not pay for me to carry on doing research. There are funding options, but many focus on research at a clinical level, rather than the research going on at the laboratory bench. Some of that funding is directed at diabetes research, but considering the scale of diabetes, it’s nowhere near enough.

For people like me that are doing research that’s further away from the clinic, the funding sources are more limited. Diabetes UK is supporting highly trained, passionate people working in a really competitive field to keep going.”

The beauty of research

VickySalem_400x267“Translational medicine is really coming to the fore. GLP-1 has really evolved from a basic biological understanding to a treatment that’s helped millions of people within my career. The beauty of being involved in research is that when you’re around for long enough, you really appreciate the developments.

Developments might take 10 to 20 years, but that’s enough to revolutionise treatments from generation to generation. The only frustration I have is that there aren’t enough hours in the day!”

Keeping a foot firmly placed in the clinic

“I work at Imperial College London, which has a fabulous history in diabetes research and I feel hugely grateful and lucky to have developed my academic career under the supervision of Professor Steve Bloom – one of the pioneers of diabetes research.

I take inspiration for my work from Steve, and Imperial is a great environment to reach out to other researchers. But by far the most important thing is to keep a foot firmly placed in the clinic. I never cease to be moved by people with very complex conditions, of which Type 2 diabetes is one, who are desperately struggling.”

A balancing act

“It’s not easy – it’s time management, working efficiently, remembering what drives you and what your passion is. It’s important to work in a department that understands the need for flexibility. It’s thanks to funding bodies like Diabetes UK and the NIHR that allow me to have set time to carry out my laboratory work; 10 years ago people had to do it in the evenings and at weekends.

We need to make academic cultures much more open, to understand the concept of flexible working.  There’s no magic bullet – the right combination of work/life balance and the right support structure for me, might not be right for the next person. Encouraging a culture where people are able to explore and find their own solutions is the way forward.”

You can the rest of our interview with Dr Salem in the March 2016 issue of Diabetes Balance.

This post was written by Dr Emily Burns, Research Communications Manager at Diabetes UK.

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