Tech Trailblazers

Tech Trailblazers: Professor Tara Moore

  • Name: Professor Tara Moore, PhD FRSM FRSB Hon FFFLM FRSA FHEA NTF

    Role: Professor of Personalised Medicine Ulster University and Chief R & D Officer, Avellino Lab Menlo Park, San Francisco, USA

    Biography:

    Tara Moore, Professor of Personalised Medicine, concurrently holds a chair at Ulster University in Northern Ireland and is Chief R&D Officer for Avellino Labs in San Francisco USA.

    In recognition of her contribution to research, teaching and innovation Tara was recently selected for The Ophthalmologist Power List, as one of ten chosen worldwide as one of ten Emerging Leaders alongside success in the Inventors Category. Tara’s contribution to health, well-being and safety and improving people’s lives whilst inspiring others to see the opportunities to make a difference through science, was recognised with WISE Hero award. Subsequently she was awarded a Winston Churchill Fellowship to act as a role model to promote females into STEM subjects.

    Tara represents Northern Ireland on the UKRI Strengths in Places initiative for the distribution of research and innovation funding to support significant regional growth, is a National Teaching Fellow has a multitude of editorial and reviewer activities alongside mentorship of scientists worldwide.

    Tara plays a key role in innovation in teaching. She developed the first online university qualification for laser refractive eye surgery, now co-badged and endorsed by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists. She instigated the establishment of Physician Associate education at Ulster University for employment within Northern Ireland primary and secondary healthcare alongside playing a role in developing specialist Dentistry education in NI and Forensic and Legal Medicine education for Royal College of Physicians in UK.

    Tara’s academic and industrial research focuses on partner diagnostics and therapeutics for inherited genetic diseases. Avellino labs USA diagnostic assays are now available worldwide to screen the DNA of laser eye surgery candidates to assess their safety and suitability for spectacle free laser eye surgery. Her work is disseminated worldwide through her contribution to guest lectures alongside internationally co-authored peer reviewed publications. Tara has contributed to numerous text books, reviews and authored over 120 internationally co-authored peer reviewed publications reflecting internationally competitive research of the highest quality.

    What does your typical day look like?

    There is no typical day- My day could be working from home in the countryside in NI, writing or reviewing research papers or research grant applications, attending a meeting in Ulster University with my research team, developing lifelong education and training for healthcare professions or building relationships between Academia and Industry to push forward new innovations for global healthcare.

    When not located in Northern Ireland, I could waken up anywhere in the world Korea, San Francisco, Hawaii, Amsterdam, London for my role as Chief Research Officer for a USA based international precision medicine company- presenting data, updating key shareholders and in the most part trying to raise investment funds of tens of millions to drive forward development of novel gene therapies for genetic eye disease.

    What are you currently working on?

    If I am honest I am working on too many things currently- but I guess that’s the dynamic aspect of my work and life that I love. Ultimately every aspect of my work is aimed at enhancing science and technology for NI Plc be that in education, research or industry.

    In research my academic research team at Ulster University alongside industrial partner’s research team in Menlo Park are focused on developing new molecular biology diagnostic assays and partner gene silencing and gene editing technologies.

    Other exciting industrial engagements include working with drug delivery experts in SiSaf and also supporting the Ulster University Randox Industrial PhD Academy – addressing the skills shortage in industry and providing a legacy of talented new researchers trained and equipped for immediate employment in world leading industry based research laboratories.

    What inspired you to join this company in particular?

    On my return to Northern Ireland after a research fellowship at Harvard Medical School I joined Ulster University as a Lecturer in 2001! The fact that I remained in one place for 19 years says a lot for the University and its ethos and culture for allowing innovation and innovators to thrive.
    I progressed to a Professorship and built an amazing research team there which allowed international recognition for our contribution to genetic eye disease and ultimately the collaborative agreement with USA based Avellino Lab and our current funded programme of research to develop a preclinical portfolio of data for gene editing of inherited eye disease.

    Ultimately as Steve Jobs said “Great things in business are never done by one person, they're done by a team of people." I attribute all success to being part of a great team.

    Did you always want to work in this industry (tech)?

    No, I had no idea what I was going to do- as a farmer’s daughter from Bellaghy and first in family to go to University, I considered being a Vet but was discouraged at that time because I was a girl. I went to Queen’s University Belfast and studied Microbiology and a PhD in Clinical Medicine which was followed with numerous research posts in Belfast, New York and Boston. My focus very quickly became Ophthalmology- all things eyes! How did I end up where I am today? -serendipity I think.

    What’s your favourite part about your work?

    How dynamic my work is- the easy parts and the really challenging parts peppered throughout each day, make it very rewarding. As a working mum, you make a very deliberate decision to leave your kids to be at work and miss out on a many aspects of their life- therefore when I leave for work in the morning I am determined to achieve something that day which is worthwhile and impactful. What did you achieve today? What did you learn today is often the dinner table conversation in my home- My favourite part is the look in my six daughters’ eyes when they listen and say “Woah that is amazing, is that real? That’s like a sci fi movie!”

    What would you say to other people considering a job in this industry (tech)?

    Go for it, start your education in the broad area initially with a fundamental education in computing, engineering, coding, bioinformatics or Stratified Medicine. You can also come from any background and reskill and enter this area with all your other knowledge and life experiences. A position toggling academia and industry is the ideal position to be in to drive forward new innovations. I would recommend this role to anyone with an interest in STEM. Civic universities are more aware of the need to align with their local industrial sector, their needs and pipeline to enhance innovation, co creation and productivity with a real sense of place.

    My location in Northern Ireland at this time is ideal- personalised medicine, AI, data analytics, deep learning and MedTech are thriving. Northern Ireland is home to so many success stories and brilliant companies. I would encourage anyone to be part of this. The best advice I was given in my journey was- “Be the best you can be and work to surround yourself with people who are even better”

    How do you see technology impacting on our lives?

    Personalised Medicine- be it applied in diagnostics or therapeutics has the potential to revolutionise our healthcare and our personal access to medicine. It’s a really exciting era to live in. I look forward to the days ahead for my kids, when feeling unwell, to pin prick their fingers at home, place a droplet of their blood into a home test kit or even on their smartphone to show them which virus or bacteria they have and which medicine it is sensitive to. “Science beyond limits.”

    Who inspired you to work in this field?

    All those who have gone before me- men and women alike. So many things we take for granted such as our ability to treat infections with antibiotics, infections which not so long ago would have killed us, creation of organs from stem cells and sequencing our DNA to identify one single mistake within 3 billion letters of DNA to identify the cause of a genetic disease. All those great scientists and innovators inspire me daily.

    What do you consider to be the most important tech innovation or development in recent years?

    Technology moves extremely fast- a new innovation is produced nearly every day somewhere in the world. Overall many high tech innovations have transformed our lives and made many new businesses and achievements possible. 

    The most important ones?- that depends on who you ask but for me these would include-AI-based deep learning, the Cloud, fast and inexpensive sequencing the human genome and of course I have to say CRISPR genome editing.

    Our ability to look deep inside the very building blocks of us as humans, read their DNA sequence and pick out the errors that cause genetic disease and then rewrite their code to correct genetic errors is truly amazing- we are living in an era of massive potential for changes in how we will treat human disease.

    What tech gadget could you not live without?

    Well I would not want to live without my fast car! But ultimately I would not have a clue where to go or when to be there without my iPhone. Embarrassingly, I regularly arrive at the airport at 6am and must look at my phone to get my connecting flight destination, where I am to stay, who I am to meet and what I am to achieve! A reflection of the speed of the life we live now.

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