Meet the researcher: Dr Johnathan Cooper-Knock

March 2013

My name is Johnathan Cooper-Knock.  I qualified as a medical doctor in 2006 at the University of Oxford.  I came to Sheffield in 2008 to do a hospital job which also included time in MND research.  I am now in full time research in order to obtain my PhD.  I aim to be a scientist and a doctor – to act as a bridge between the clinic and the lab because I firmly believe that, particularly in the struggle against MND, both are essential.

How and why did you get into MND research?

I first encountered MND research as a medical student in Oxford when I met Kevin Talbot, now Professor Talbot.  I was impacted by both the patients I met and the passion that Kevin had both in his clinic and in his research. A few years later when I had an opportunity to come and work for Professor Pamela Shaw in Sheffield, this seemed the natural continuation of what I started as a student.

What is it like working in SITraN?

SITraN is great.  It is a big enough that there are lots of different researchers with their own interests and expertise, but small enough that people are accessible and approachable; and importantly we are working towards a common goal.  For example today I have been in meeting with computer scientists talking about the best way to explore the genetics of MND – they have a completely different background to me and yet together we can achieve something which would be much harder alone.

Can you briefly describe the research project you are currently working on?

I am working on the newly discovered genetic variant of MND related to changes in a gene called C9ORF72.  We are trying to understand what goes wrong in the gene and how that causes disease.  When we understand exactly what has broken we can try and fix it.

What do you enjoy most about your job as a researcher?

My big motivation is the amazing people I have met who are MND sufferers.  It is a privilege to be working for such a worthy cause.  I also enjoy the exploration – the freedom to have an idea and act upon it.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

In June of 2012 when I was awarded an MND Association/MRC Training fellowship to allow me to complete my PhD in Sheffield which is an amazing step for me.  Over the next few years, while I am doing my PhD, it will allow me to learn the skills I need to be a MND doctor and researcher in the long term.

Who do you admire the most?

I admire people who dig deep and go the extra mile especially when they do it not out of self-interest but to benefit others.  I am consistently amazed by MND patients who will go to great lengths to contribute to our research; I find this inspiring as I then use those samples to better understand how to treat the disease.

What do you like doing in your spare time?

In my spare time I work in a youth club and I am a member of a church; I also enjoy running and climbing in the Peak District.