Peter Oliver - molecular geneticist
Peter Oliver studies brain cells to find out why cells die in illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease.
This article was written as part of the Inspiring Science project, a collaboration between the MRC and the writers’ organisation English PEN. The project aimed to reveal the day-to-day lives of scientists to writers hoping to use researchers and their work in fiction. This profile is available for reference purposes only.
I try to understand human neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders at a cellular level. I want to find out why brain cells die.
Human neurological disease already accounts for over a fifth of the health budget in the developed world. Many of the most common disorders I study, like Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia, have no effective treatments and scientists don’t know much about their causes.
My base is the molecular genetics lab, and much of my time is spent analysing DNA and protein. I also examine tissue from mice with the same disorders as humans, and look at how they behave. Although most of my work may be routine, the ideas behind it keep it at the cutting edge. Day-to-day, I supervise PhD students and communicate in person with technical staff and other post-docs. Senior staff tend to use email – I can get responses at all hours.
If I discover something new, that makes my day. Something that you know no-one else has seen before. This is ruined, though, if a paper comes out from another lab with the same results. You want to be the only one who’s found it.
I have taken part in many levels of science, from student to teaching in academic departments in the UK and USA, to running projects. I also have experience of industrial science both at level of small start-up companies and large international ones.
Peter Oliver, senior post-doctoral researcher, MRC Functional Genetics Unit, Oxford