60 seconds with Mahon Maguire
Mahon Maguire has recently joined the Department as the Head of Preclinical Imaging, In this '60 seconds with...', Mahon gives us his career highlights, his future plans for the unit and how his team can help with world-leading research.
Tell us a bit about your career background to date
I originally started out as a biochemist studying protein structure by NMR in Cambridge. I enjoyed working with the NMR magnets and took a post-doc position in Cambridge with Dr Julian Griffin working primarily on cardiac metabolomics using NMR spectroscopy and ended up running more spectra of mouse urine than I care to recall. I took a position with Dr Jurgen Schneider at the BHF Experimental Magnetic Resonance Unit in the Wellcome Trust Centre here in Oxford, working on getting phosphorus and sodium spectroscopy to work in the beating mouse heart. I had to learn in vivo imaging, pulse sequence programming and electronics, which was a fun challenge. When I left the Unit I was senior post-doc and Lab Manager and had a reputation for being the only guy who understood how all of the equipment actually functioned. I briefly provided MR physics support for the clinical researchers here in Oncology before taking the post of Facility Manager for the Centre for Pre-clinical Imaging at the University of Liverpool. The Centre was a University shared research facility supporting everybody from senior clinicians to PhD students. We helped with their imaging studies from planning, equipment training and support through to data acquisition and analysis. My immediate boss was Professor Harish Poptani whose main research focus was dynamic contrast enhanced imaging and spectroscopy of glioblastoma models. Throughout my career I have had the dubious pleasure of running everything from routine mouse cardiac spectroscopy to scanning live fish, newborn mice and even the penis of a marmoset.
Some varied source material! You have joined the Department as the Head of Pre-Clinical Imaging. Please tell us what this work will entail and what you hope to achieve for the unit
The Pre-clinical Imaging Unit is a shared resource and is there to give researchers access to the tools and expertise they need to carry out their research. I am here help the users, and to develop the methods and tools they need to get the job done. I want to encourage researchers to come to us with their imaging projects, plans for future studies, and crazy ideas so that we can help them to get the data that they need. I am here to help with method and hardware development (particularly for magnetic resonance) and also software development and data analysis support where required. I want to work in collaboration with the users and to train them to be able to run the imaging equipment themselves so that they can gain new skills and experience. Sadly, I fully anticipate my fair share of maintenance and troubleshooting.
The Imaging facility has some remarkable equipment at its disposal. For those wishing to use the facility, what can they expect when working with the Imaging team?
The imaging facility has an extremely well equipped lab with a fantastic range of capabilities that exists in only a few labs in the country. We have three MR scanners, a PET/SPECT/CT system, ultrasound, optical imaging, and x-ray irradiators amongst other kit. All of this is housed within the animal facility allowing longitudinal studies to be carried out.
I want the imaging team to work in collaboration with the users. This means helping to develop and optimize the imaging technology to meet the needs of the individual projects. Most of the imaging kit in the unit is very adaptable and with a little optimization can do far more than people typically expect. MR in particular can do much more than take images of tumours; it can measure tissue microstructure, make in vivo metabolic measurements, measure enzyme kinetics, blood flow, perfusion and more, often in the same imaging session. The imaging team are experts in their fields and are here to provide that expertise to the users.
What are you looking forward to as you embark on your new role in the Department?
I am very much looking forward to getting my teeth into some new projects. My scientific background is extremely broad with considerable experience in biochemistry, physiology, physics, engineering and computer science so having the opportunity to get stuck into a new biological problem definitely appeals. My forte is method development and finding ways to make seemingly crazy ideas actually work, repeatedly imaging the beating heart of a zebrafish over a period of weeks for example. The child in me, however, is very much looking forward to getting to play with the new toys.