Meet our postgraduate researchers: Theo Dupuis

Published on 10 August 2021

Theo Dupuis's research is focused on functional genomics. He applies methodologies to analyse how much genetic variants change how genes are read and identify new therapeutic targets to fight diseases.

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What did you do before starting your research degree at Dundee?

I studied life sciences at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, with an initial interest in infectious diseases. However, my various encounters and experiences have pushed me towards more computational jobs. Before applying for my PhD, I had left academia and was working as a software developer.

What is the focus of your current research?

Not only does our DNA contain genetic information to build all the elements that perform biological functions in our body, but also instructions on how to read it. This is particularly important as the vast majority of genetic regions we know to be associated with common diseases fall in these regulatory regions. My PhD research is on applying methodologies to analyse how much genetic variants change, how genes are read, and to try to understand how their effects on diseases are mediated.

What first got you interested in your research topic?

This topic was completely new to me when I started, and it was not even my first criteria when I applied: I was more interested in finding a small lab and a supervisor who would give me sufficient mentoring. I was also seeking something computational involving the analysis of large biomedical datasets. Then, as I learned more about my field, I started to better understand what my research brings to the field of human genetics. It is pretty exciting to be a (small) part of something that big.

What has been the most positive aspect of your research degree so far?

I absolutely love learning new things so there was obviously quite a lot of excitement with the “starting in a new field” part. But I think that the most positive and rewarding aspect of research for me was the freedom we get.

Even with a good amount of mentoring and supervision we end up taking a lot of decisions on what questions we decide to answer next and how we plan to do it. In the end it means that our research is unique, and we can take pride when we obtain results solid enough to be presented to other researchers.

What has been the most challenging aspect so far?

The other side of my answer to the previous question! Having freedom somehow implies that we need to find a certain personal drive to push our research forward and I find it is easy to feel overwhelmed and demotivated, especially after almost a year of working from home. Another problem coming from the fact that our research becomes our own is that it is difficult to step back and have a critical eye on it. This has pushed me to try to present analyses no one would care about, just because I spent weeks on them or to pursue research on clear dead ends for the same reason.

How are you hoping your research will benefit others?

The purpose of my research is to move from finding genetic variants associated with disease risk through unknown mechanisms to finding genes coding for proteins involved in these diseases. Therefore, it should ultimately help us understand the biological pathways causing these diseases and identify new therapeutic targets.

What advice would you give to other postgraduate researchers?

I do not think I have universal advice to all postgraduate researchers as we all have our own difficulties. However, something that I would have benefitted from accepting earlier and that I constantly must remind myself is that I should present and discuss my work even when I consider that it is in early stages. I frequently lose a lot of me trying to adjust some details in a plot, refine some sentences in a text or add some controls to an analysis when there are actually bigger problems that I did not see because of my narrow focus. In these situations, maximising my interactions with others and getting early feedback is extremely valuable. Besides, we are in training positions and it is usually not expected of us to get everything perfect on the first try. 

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