Lewis Fry was the recipient of the AIMES Supreme Award and AIMES Education Award in 2017 and that year took up a Rhodes Scholarship at the University of Oxford, undertaking a Dphil (PHD) in Clinical Neurosciences. Lewis also won an AIMES Emerging Talent Award in 2014. Channel’s Nikki Davidson caught up with Lewis in London to put life since his big AIMES win under the microscope…
Channel Magazine: The AIMES Award is an acknowledgement of extraordinary achievement in your chosen area of achievement. Please tell us how you reached such a level of achievement, and what inspired your initial interest.
Lewis Fry: Not long ago, there was very little to be done for patients going blind due to conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma or retinal dystrophy. However, I began medical school in an exciting time for ophthalmology – suddenly we had treatments for some of these diseases. I love meeting patients who have lived through this era and have seen this fundamental change, who now have hope to keep their vision as a result of medical research. I pursued a year of basic research with the support of an AIMES Emerging Leaders award in 2014. I’ve built on this stint in the lab drawn by the allure of having a creative scientific challenge to solve to complement my training in clinical medicine.
Now in Oxford with the support of an AIMES Education Award and a Rhodes Scholarship, I spend my time trying to engineer a way to edit genes in the eye to treat blinding genetic diseases. It’s exciting to work in a group where we can see the results of work developed at our lab benches now treating patients in clinical trials in the hospital operating theatres a few floors below.
CM: What has the AIMES Award enabled you to achieve that you might not otherwise have done? Please tell us how it has helped you progress your career to date.
LF: Research is a collaborative effort and conferences are a very important part of developing partnerships and sharing our work. The recognition and funding from AIMES has given me fantastic opportunities in twice attending the peak annual conference in my field, usually held in North America with over 12,000 leaders in eye research. Conferences are a privilege to attend as a student - in a sense I guess these are somewhat like attending an international sports competition. In 2018 I did an oral presentation, and feedback from leading experts at the time was incorporated into a forthcoming paper. I have just returned from the 2019 conference in Vancouver where I presented two posters. This AIMES award will continue to help me over what is likely to be a four year research degree and beyond to continue engaging with the best knowledge in my field from around the world, and to bring this knowledge back to New Zealand.
CM: Please tell us about any influential mentors or sources of inspiration who have helped you achieve in your chosen area of activity and what difference they have made to the direction you have taken.
LF: There are too many to list! Mostly however, they have been involved in some way in education, and this has fostered my interest and ongoing involvement in teaching. My (many) excellent teachers at Kristin School helped me develop a strong understanding of service to others. Professor Michelle Leech from Monash University demonstrated to me how empathy with patients forms the core of medicine and research, while my previous supervisors atthe Centre for Eye Research, Australia - Peter van Wijngaarden and Prof Jonathan Crowston - encouraged me into a career in science and to look at bigger horizons in the UK. It’s only a few years until my next big transition from the UK back towards New Zealand, and I’ll certainly be looking to develop close mentor relationships to help guide me in this – having trusted advice is invaluable.
CM: What is your ultimate career goal?
LF: If at the end of my career I can say that I have helped to reduced health inequity I would be satisfied. I hope I can do this through working as an ophthalmologist and a medical researcher, working for patients in New Zealand. So much of our health is beyond our control – whether that be due to the genetics we inherited or the environment in which we live. There are so many opportunities to work to improve the health of New Zealanders and patients around the world that I think a multifaceted career working as a scientist, clinician and advocate would be my ideal.
CM: What further study or other steps do you believe you need to take to reach this, and how will you go about doing that?
LF: It’s a long path – in addition to my years of medical school and a four-year PhD, I still have five or so years of ophthalmology training ahead. Beyond that, I’m going to need to publish good science papers to obtain scientific grants to pursue my scientific goals, and train broadly in the burgeoning field of genetics and ethics to ensure that we are developing treatments that we are happy with as a society.
CM: Having achieved an AIMES award and gone on to build a career after that, what two key pieces of advice would you give to any talented young people who would like to progress in their chosen fields?
LF: Firstly, it would be to understand your values and what drives you. Secondly, it is to try and find others who hold similar ideas and are willing to help you challenge them. It is difficult to critically reflect on why you are pursuing something. Having time in Oxford to evaluate my goals and do it with like-minded people has been a real privilege. I think it helps to identify opportunities that would have otherwise passed you by, it connects you to similar others who will drive you to achieve. Along the way those same people also help you have a lot of fun.