Interviews with Scientists: Matthew Lloyd

Interviews with Scientists: Matthew Lloyd
3 years ago

Interviews with Scientists: Matthew Lloyd

Matthew Lloyd read Biological Chemistry at the University of Leicester followed by a DPhil (PhD) at the University of Oxford with the late Professor Sir Jack Baldwin FRS and Professor Chris Schofield FRS on antibiotic biosynthesis.

Following post-doctoral research at Brown University with Professor David E. Cane and the University of Oxford with the late Professor Sir Jack Baldwin FRS and Professor Chris Schofield FRS, Matthew joined the Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology at the University of Bath as a Lecturer (Assistant Professor). He was promoted to Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in 2012.

We spoke to Matthew about his current research, his passion for both science and Taekwon-Do, his advice for scientists who are just starting out on their PhD journey, and more.

Great to speak to you, Matthew! Firstly, please do tell us a bit more about your current research.

I suppose the underlying theme of my research is Chemical Biology, trying to understand biological phenomena using techniques drawn from the interface of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The whole of my research career has been on enzymes, proteins which catalyse chemical reactions. Around 1997 I developed an interest in lipid (fat) metabolism, on which I have worked on ever since.

The main focus right now is a particular enzyme, alpha-methylacyl-CoA racemase (AMACR) which is involved in fatty acid degradation and is also part of the pathway which converts R-ibuprofen (which is inactive) to S-ibuprofen (which has anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties because it inhibits cyclooxygenase). We are very interested in this enzyme because levels are significantly increased in many cancers (including prostate cancer), and have spent the last several years developing methods to measure AMACR activity and inhibitors – both of which might be developed into new cancer treatments.

Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger?

I come from a very working class background and going to University was really very unusual. I was very interested in science from when I started learning the subject at school. I was particularly influenced by two inspirational teachers at O Level: Mr John Rhymer (who taught Biology) and Mr Alan Knott (who taught Chemistry). I was able to contact Mr Rhymer through Facebook a few years ago, and tell him how important his contribution was. I still address him as ‘Sir’ because of the respect that I have for him.

I am also indebted to my Sixth Form Chemistry teachers, Dr Sandra Luscombe and Dr John Sleigh, and my Sixth Form Biology teacher Mrs Houghton, who really expanded my horizons and were great role models. Dr Sleigh was particularly inspiring as he left school without qualifications and worked on a building site, before going back to night school to take O Levels and A Levels. He eventually got a first class degree in Chemistry degree and a PhD, both at the University of Birmingham.

If you weren’t a scientist, what do you think you’d be doing now?

I find it very difficult to imagine any other career.

What's the most important lesson you have learned in your career so far?

Work on something that really interests you, as this will motivate you when things get tough. Work with people who have similar goals and interests to you in terms of their research, and avoid those with over-sized egos as they are more trouble than they are worth.

What does a typical day look like for you?

My day will be very different depending on what time of year it is. In the first semester (October to December) I have a lot of teaching, where I do lectures, tutorials, workshops and practical classes and we also have final year research projects which for me generally means spending a lot of time in the lab. The second semester (February to May) tends to be quieter so I have more time to focus on paper and grant writing, though there are some lecture, tutorials and other teachingas well. We also have exam marking and Board of Examiners meetings three times per year, which tends to be quite busy.

Over the summer I often have Masters in Drug Discovery project students so I am in the lab a lot. I also focus on paper and grant writing, and teaching preparation for the following year. I try to spend a lot of time in the lab doing experiments over the summer, which is relatively unusual for an academic.

In addition, I often get research papers to review, where I make an assessment about the importance of the work and whether it is suitable for publication in that journal. Most of the papers are basically sound, but often require some rewriting. I am very fussy about science being reported in a way that makes it easy to repeat, so I often ask for lots of additional experimental detail.

At the moment, the University is closed because of the Covid-19 pandemic, so I am spending a lot of time writing papers, grants and reviewing papers at home. There is also some online teaching and assessment to do, and we will shortly be going into exams.

What is it about your field of research that gets you most excited?

Fundamentally it is that I am curious and I want to know about my field. The disease area I work in is cancer and there is potential for considerable impact.

The thing which gives me most satisfaction is getting to the end of a student project in which we have done a nice piece of research. Similarly, being able to get a paper submitted or accepted is also highly satisfying as this is the culmination of months – or often years – of work and is a chance to tell the world about our discoveries.

Which fellow scientists working today do you most admire, and why?

For academics I have a number of colleagues at the University of Bath with whom I have worked for many years, whom I greatly respect. These include Professor Mike Threadgill, Dr Tim Woodman, Dr Pauline Wood in the Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology and Professor Ravi Acharya and Dr Vasanta Subramanian in the Department of Biology and Biochemistry.

There are also several more junior scientists who I have worked with in the recent past for whom I have great respect, including Dr Maksims Yevglevskis, Dr Amit Nathubhai and Ms Yoana Petrova. All of them are hugely talented and knowledgeable as well as being good colleagues and nice people.

What do you think is the greatest scientific discovery of all time?

There are so many to choose from!

In terms of theoretical concepts, the ones I consider particularly important are:

  • The invention of differential calculus by Newton and the invention of statistics which allow mathematical description of scientific phenomenon;
  • Mole concept, as being able to count atoms, molecules, ions and other species fundamentally underpins all science, Medicine, Pharmacy, and many other disciplines. Although Avogadro put forwards his hypothesis in 1811, the actual value of his constant was not defined until much later;
  • The concept of pH which was reported by Sörensen in 1909. Amongst other things this allowed Lenor Michaelis and Maud Menten to do properly controlled experiments which started the field of experimental enzyme kinetics.

In terms of concrete discoveries, I think the following are very important:

  • The discovery that life does not arise spontaneously by Koch, and the pioneering of antiseptics by Lister. It is a little known fact that Lister was one of several scientists to ‘discover’ penicillin before Fleming. The impact of these discoveries on medicine in general and on epidemiology has been enormous;
  • The discovery and development of chirality by Pasteur, Fischer and others. Proteins, nucleic acids, sugars and many lipids are chiral, as are many biological small molecules and this is of fundamental importance. Another over-looked fact is that different stereochemical isomers of drugs are effectively different drugs – they often have different pharmacology and frequently are metabolised by different enzymes at different rates so their pharmacokinetics is also different;
  • More recently, the invention of PCR by Kary Mullis also ranks highly as it underpins modern molecular biology, cloning, protein expression, site-directed mutagenesis, and DNA sequencing (although of course Sanger sequence actually predated the formal invention of PCR by many years).

What advice would you give those just starting out with their science PhDs?

  • Pick a project that really interests you, because this will help keep you motivated when things are tough.
  • The most successful students are the best organised. It is far better to do six hours of high-quality, focussed work each day than 12 hours of mediocre work.
  • A PhD is a marathon not a sprint, and steady, high-quality output will be much more productive in the long term.
  • Archive your data carefully so you can find it easily. For example, each time you do a gel take a photo and place it into a PowerPoint or Word file with all the information required to interpret it (what voltage the gel was run at, what are the standards, what is in each lane, how much was loaded, etc.). Similarly, if doing a plate-reader experiment write everything needed to interpret the data into the resulting Excel file. Doing this will make writing thesis and interim reports much easier and faster as you don’t have to hunt around for bits of information.
  • Finally, find yourself a good mentor.

What do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing life scientists and their work?

At undergraduate level there is far too much focus on passing exams, and this is a problem because it can make it difficult to recruit early career researchers with the right skills. The current move towards recording all lectures is also an increasing trend right now, and this will have knock-on effects. Students are frequently demanding this, but there is little evidence that it supports effective learning or that exam / other assessment results are improved. Having said that, there are exceptions where it is educationally sensible to record lectures for everyone or for particular groups of students.

At a higher level, short term research funding is a problem and lack of a clear career path is problematic as many good scientists are forced to leave science. This also means that academics spend a lot of time raising funding rather than actually doing the science.

Outside of your research, what do you enjoy doing most?

I train in the Ch’ang-Hon (‘ITF’) style of Taekwon-Do. I started in September 1985 so I am moving towards the end of my 35th year of training. I train at Master Mark Ogborne’s school, Bath Taekwon-Do, which is part of The Professional Unification Of Martial Arts (P.U.M.A.) organisation. I’m fairly senior (International Instructor, 4th Degree Black Belt; Sabum Nim Sa Dan) so I spend a fair proportion of my time teaching students at various levels.

Bath Taekwon-Do has been so important in my life that Master Ogborne was my best man at my wedding a few years ago, when I married my very beautiful Brazilian wife, Luzia.

What’s your favourite science joke?

A Biochemist walks into a bar and orders some adenosine triphosphate. The bartender replies ‘that’s 80p to you’ (thanks Savannah Britton for telling me that joke).


Thank you so much for speaking to us, Matthew! Love the joke!

Matthew’s research funding has come from Prostate Cancer UK from their Movember initiative, the University of Bath for a PhD studentship, and LifeArc who provided screening libraries for some recent work. The Biochemical Society has also given studentships to various students to work in Matthew’s lab over the summer.

Matthew has been a member of The Biochemical Society for almost 30 years, since he was a postgraduate student and he is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology (RSB).

You can connect with Matthew online in the following ways:

University of Bath:

Twitter: @DrMatthewLloyd


Google Scholar:


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