Joan Marti Munoz, PhD
CÚRAM, NUI Galway
Short overview of Academic Career so far:
Dr. Joan received his Bachelor in Chemistry on 2012 by the University of Barcelona (UB) (Spain). He later secured a PhD (Cum Laude distinction) in Material Science and Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), Barcelona (Spain). His research focused on studying and developing Ca2+-releasing synthetic scaffolds to induce vascularization in hard-to-heal wounds. From this work, a patent has been registered and licensed to a national company. As a Postdoctoral fellow at CÚRAM (Ireland), Dr. Joan is working under Prof. Abhay Pandit’s supervision on developing TD139 drug delivery hyaluronic acid conjugates for the treatment of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF). Dr. Joan is also studying the classification of histopathological IPF patterns using Raman-confocal spectroscopy for diagnostic purposes. Dr. Joan has been awarded the prestigious Marie Curie Individual Fellowship Global 2021 and is about to move to Yale Medical School (US) to pursue genomic studies on novel Galectin-3 inhibitory treatment for IPF. Dr. Joan is author of a licensed patent, seven Q1 research manuscripts, numerous podium presentations at international conferences and is member of the review editorial board of Frontiers in Biomaterials Science.
As a child, I was always fascinated in understanding how things work and trying to imagine what inventions humanity will develop in the future. I remember watching scientific TV shows for children and having membership to several informal young scientific journals. I cannot tell what specifically spark my interest but I was always interested in science and nature.
I first had the opportunity to start a PhD just after my Bachelor. The subject area was a bit different from that of my Bachelor’s. I was expecting to develop a career in organic chemistry and I move towards inorganic biomaterials science. A similar trend happened when I move to my current postdoctoral position, I transit from an inorganic synthetic biomaterials development for bone mechanics to a more biologically biomaterials development for soft tissue and chronic disease treatment. Looking at it with perspective, I am glad a made such transitions, the field of biomaterials development and chronic disease treatment and diagnosis has a huge market for development. At initial career stages it is very difficult to find the perfect position that aligns with your short term expertise, one needs to develop the enough competitive skills to be able to secure funding to start its own projects and this means changing of subject areas.
This is an interesting question that us researchers ask ourselves often. Is my work really impactful? What good is my one among thousands of other papers if more likely anyone is going to continue my work? Research is important for invention, many trials have to fail to be able to spot what can relay have an impact. For this reason, it is important to continue investing in developing projects that even though have high chances of not being societally impactful are going to add knowledge and understanding to concept ideas. The development of essential day-to-day basic tools like the microwave, TV, computers, internet, cars, electricity that add so much to our quality live would not have been possible without the knowledge contribution of many previous studies that were like our this one to among thousands of papers. So in the long term our research is having an impact. However, in my opinion the current research system has some flaws. Nowadays research is based in short time funding periods (2-3 years) which is good for boosting proof of new concepts but does not allow further maturation. Research funding should allow concept ideas maturation into clinical translation to increase impact rather than penalised researchers for not keep changing of subject areas.
If proven effective in pre-clinical trials, our treatment for IPF could be transferred to a phase I clinical trial. If successful and after patent registration the intellectual property (IP) could be licensed to a company for further clinical trials. At the moment, there are not effective clinical treatments for IPF, although some promising candidates are already in clinical trials.
As a researcher in general I often face the problem of lack of standardised work methodologies and instrumentation. Research often includes many different areas in a single lab, however this needs to be standardised and provide the researcher with specific methodologies and specialised personnel and instrumentation support to achieve efficiently predefined goals. Funding agencies should put in place more robust audits to ensure work environment in research institutes is as similar as possible as those find in R&D facilities in competitive companies and applied sanctions if necessary. This lack of control often compromise the integrity of the work.
I think we, researchers in general, have the common misconception that we are paid by an employee to do a specific job and often our main goal is to increase our academic CV status for personal achievements. What we researchers need to understand is that our funding comes from the taxes paid from everyone and that a trust has been transferred to us to develop specific tasks to help to improve societal quality live. We have a responsibility towards society and should not set above our personal interests to the societal benefits. Nowadays, academic research careers are very individualist and based on personal achievements.
For sure, I would like to see more investment in clinical translation, concept idea maturations and standardised protocols to achieve more efficiently robustness. Which I think funding agencies are currently trying to implement, but there is still much more work to do.