Meet our Expert Scientists: Professor Elek Molnár

Meet our Expert Scientists: Professor Elek Molnár
6 years ago

Meet our Expert Scientists: Professor Elek Molnár

We’re thrilled to continue the 'Meet Our Expert Scientists' series, by speaking to the wonderful Professor Elek Molnár! Elek is Professor of Neuroscience at the School of Pharmacology and Neuroscience, University of Bristol, UK, and we are extremely proud to have him as a member of our Scientific Advisory Board. We are delighted that Elek has shared his work, experience and thoughts with us..

Hi Elek! Thanks for talking to us. Firstly tell us more about your current position and what you're working on at the moment...

I am Professor of Neuroscience at the School of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience, University of Bristol, UK.

A large part of our research deals with the underlying molecular mechanism of synaptic plasticity which is related to learning and memory and how information is stored in the brain. We are particularly interested in developmental and activity dependent changes in the molecular organisation, signalling, distribution and function of glutamate receptors. We use a combination of molecular, pharmacological, immunochemical and imaging approaches to gain understanding of the roles of glutamate receptors in the central nervous system.

Recently we have identified that variants of the EAAT2 glutamate transporter gene promoter are associated with cerebral palsy in preterm infants. This study highlights the significance of glutamate in the pathogenesis of preterm brain injury and subsequent development of cerebral palsy and neurodevelopmental disabilities. Furthermore, the identified EAAT2 single nucleotide polymorphisms may be an early biomarker of vulnerability to neurodisability and may aid the development of targeted treatment strategies.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

I start work fairly early, so I can focus on tasks without interruptions before I spend the rest of the day with the juggling of teaching, research and admin responsibilities. I am International Director for the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences and I have the opportunity to interact with fascinating people from all over the world, which is always refreshing.

Did you always want to be a scientist when you were younger, and what made you pursue a career in your particular field?

I wasn’t a particularly good primary school pupil, but I really liked to study chemical reactions, which lead to a few accidental explosions. I am still not sure how I managed to avoid injuries… I studied medicine in Szeged (Hungary), where I had the opportunity to participate in research projects. I spent all my free time at the Biochemistry Department of the Albert Szent-Györgyi University of Medical Sciences. Soon after graduation I moved to the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, State University of New York, Health Science Center, Syracuse, New York, USA where I learned to apply a wide range of biochemical techniques for the investigation of ion transport systems. The cloning of the first glutamate receptors coincided with my move to the MRC Anatomical Neuropharmacology Unit, University of Oxford, UK. Ever since, my research projects and collaborations have mainly focused on these fascinating proteins.

What are the biggest myths or misunderstandings around your field of research?

Fortunately, big myths and misunderstandings are rapidly resolved in our fast-moving field. However, the literature is occasionally contaminated with artefacts due to the inappropriate use of reagents or research methods.

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

The possibility that better understanding of the fundamental cellular and molecular mechanisms (e.g. signalling pathways, receptors, transporters etc) will lead to the identification of new drug targets for the treatment of currently incurable neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Where does your funding come from and are there differences to how you secure funding now to how you suceeded in the past?

In recent years most of our funding comes from the BBSRC. It is increasingly more difficult to secure funding even with excellent research ideas and most scientists spend enormous amounts of time applying for funding - often without success. This can be very disheartening.

What advice would you give someone just starting their PhD?

The more you put into your PhD, the more you get out of it.

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

Most likely I would be a paediatrician or follow my parents’ footsteps and work as an artist.

Outside the lab, what do you enjoy doing most?

Spending time with my family, swimming, bicycling, tennis and DIY.

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

Professor Shigetada Nakanishi. As a medic, he realised that many diseases are poorly understood from a basic science perspective. His pioneering work revealed the molecular structure and function of several fundamentally important neurotransmitter receptors (including NMDA receptors and metabotropic glutamate receptors) and enabled a wide range of studies worldwide.

What’s your favourite science joke or quote?

Quote: “Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.” - Albert Szent-Györgyi

Joke: How did the mother know her son would become a neuroanatomist? He was always staining things.

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

Understand how organisms pass on their genes and how the workings of cells are governed by codes in DNA.

What do you bring to the Hello Bio Scientific Advisory Board, and why did you want to join?

I have studied glutamate and other neurotransmitter receptors using a wide range of techniques for many years and I use my extensive expertise to collaborate with Hello Bio.

Which Hello Bio products have you used in your research, and what are you using them for?

Our studies of glutamate receptor signalling fundamentally rely on the wide range of high quality ligands supplied by Hello Bio.

What does 2018 have in store for you and your research?

We are planning to publish a number of long overdue studies and write successful grant applications to fund our research activities. Also, we will carry on training future neuroscientists.


What a fascinating interview, Elek! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. From those early accidental explosions in a school lab to identifying variants of a gene associated with cerebral palsy in preterm infants is some journey!

Find out more about Elek's research here:

View Elek's publications here:

Meet the rest of our Scientific Advisory Board

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