A day in the life of Dr Ryan Mathew

A day in the life of Dr Ryan Mathew

Wed 30 October

In the winter edition of the BTRS newsletter we head to our brain tumour lab at Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine to find out what the typical day in the life of professor Ryan Mathew is like.
In his words, this is what he gets up to day-to-day.

What is your job title and what does your role entail?

I’m an Associate Professor and Honorary Consultant Neurosurgeon at the University of Leeds and Leeds General Infirmary. I co-lead the Stem Cells and Brain Tumour lab group with cell biologist Dr Heiko Wurdak (also funded by BTRS).

We work to understand the underlying biology of brain tumours (i.e. ‘what makes them tick’) by creating models based on brain tumour tissue donated by patients, with the ultimate aim of translating this into clinically relevant information that informs diagnosis and treatment.

I also work with the Surgical Technologies group to develop new ways of detecting and identifying tumours, making brain tumour surgery safer and more effective, and evaluating new intro-operative treatments. Furthermore, through my role as Academic Lead for Health and Wellbeing at the Centre for Immersive Technologies, I also collaborate with partners on Artificial Intelligence (AI) approaches to detecting brain tumours earlier and using augmented reality for surgical navigation. 

How do you set yourself up for the day? What does a typical morning before work look like?

There are very few typical mornings! Which is one of the reasons I love my job so much. One constant is coffee – it is always the start to each day. I love it so much that I did a barista training course and have coffee machines or paraphernalia at every site I work.

On days when I’m operating, I go in early to meet the patients, go through the scans (again) and make sure the team are ready. Other mornings I might be heading to clinic, meetings or flying out to conferences or workshops. Rarely, I get to sit down with my family and have breakfast together before leaving for work. And even more rarely, I might get to do a school drop off.

What are some projects you're currently working on?

I work on projects that span from very basic biology approaches in the lab right through to more patient facing technologies. Lab projects include building cerebral tumour organoids (so-called ’mini-brains’) which are miniature living structures that resemble human brains with tumours growing in them to try and understand what makes them grow and migrate, as well as what their vulnerabilities are that we might be able to exploit.

Other projects include trying to use AI to diagnose brain tumours earlier using patients’ speech, using mixed reality to speed up surgical navigation – identifying where the tumour is so that the cut is as small and focussed as possible and using new imaging techniques intra-operatively to identify tumour cells intermingled with normal brain cells, and another linked project to see if we can develop an automated laser to precisely eliminate these leftover cells.   

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Balancing my clinical commitments – I pride myself on trying to be the very best surgeon and doctor to my patients – with my research commitments. I’m a perfectionist and I can’t stand the idea of not giving my all to either. It’s very much two jobs in one!

What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

This has a two-part answer. I’ll always be a doctor first and foremost. Taking care of someone (sometimes the same age as me) who has just been told they have a brain tumour, getting them safely through massive surgery and seeing them afterwards is the best feeling in the world. I also love the free thinking I get to do with the research and the days when a new finding comes back. 

How do you interact with the BTRS team?

I try to get to the BTRS cafe as much as possible to catch up with the team, give them an update, find out latest developments/strategies and see if I can help in any way. I also do talks at patient support groups. 

What keeps you motivated every day?

Simple. My patients. Who go from normal lives that have huge parallels with mine to having a life changing diagnosis of a brain tumour. Many of these people have their lives cut short. I‘m driven to make their outcomes better, that’s why I became a doctor.

What do you do outside of work that keeps you busy?

I love cooking, sport, travelling and most of all my family, especially my 2 boys aged 7 and 5 years. They have very busy social lives, numerous activities and we do lots of outdoor activities together such as bike rides. They pretty much monopolise any spare time I have. But I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

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