Interview with ICIS Past-President (2013), Luke O’Neill
- Please tell us your name, degree, where you currently work, position
Luke O’Neill PhD, Trinity College Dublin, Chair of Biochemistry
- Where did you do your training?
Undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences (Biochemistry), PhD in Pharmacology on IL-1 and prostaglandins, University of London
- Briefly, what is your research about?
The molecular basis of inflammation – innate immunity, immunometabolism
- Tell us your thoughts about ICIS: how has being involved in the Cytokine Society help your career?
From the first meeting I attended in 1989 ICIS has been critical for my career- from learning about discoveries to giving talks myself in a supportive environment, to establishing collaborations, to coming up with research ideas and beyond, ICIS has been the most important society of my entire career by far!
- Are there any particular friendships or collaborations that came specifically out of Cytokines meetings?
Early on I vividly remember talks by Charles Dinarello, whose work on IL1 and TNF make him the key pioneer in cytokine biology. I got to know Charles at cytokine meetings and we’ve been friends ever since. In 2001 at the meeting in Maui, Jürg Tschopp presented for the first time on the NLRP3 inflammasome (imagine- first time ever!) leading me to work on NLRP3 myself and to search for inhibitors initially in collaboration with Jürg. If I hadn’t met him in Maui I wouldn’t have worked on NLRP3. At a subsequent meeting Jürg described how the NLRP3 knockout mouse was hypersensitive to insulin. That stuck in my mind and I’m sure was part of the inspiration behind my subsequent interest in immunometabolism.
- What Cytokines meeting(s) have been your favorites? Tell us about any special memories or anecdotes.
I particularly remember the Jerusalem meeting organised by David Wallach. Great science and such a fascinating and important place, and a great bar we found with a Janis Joplin tribute band. I also remember the meeting in Montreal organised by John Hiscott which was held in the hotel where John and Yoko had their bed-in for Peace and where they recorded ‘Give Peace a Chance’ – I got to see the room. I think it was at that meeting that Laurie Glimcher first described the role of Tbet in Th1 regulation – she gave such a brilliant talk.
- What do you like to do when not in the lab?
- What is the best life/career advice you’ve ever received?
Never take advice from older scientists. Joke! It wasn’t so much a direct piece of advice more an approach to take. I did a postdoc with Jerry Saklatvala in Cambridge. He was a founding member of the society and discovered IL1alpha and p38 MAP kinase. He always went after the fundamentals – get as close as you can to underpinning mechanism and you won’t go far wrong.
- What book or TV show are you reading/watching right now that you recommend?
I just finished a SciFi book called ‘Project Hail Mary’ by Andy Weir. It’s about an alien single cell lifeform called an Astrophage, that feeds off energy in sunlight. The Earth is in danger but a mission to a distant star which appears to be resistant to the Astrophage sets off to try and find a way to stop them. I think at the next ICIS meeting there should be a session on alien cytokines.
- What is your favorite cytokine?
Well, that’s easy: the one and only IL-1.