Matt Morgan is sat in a room in front of four separate screens looking at lines of colourful code on a black window. He’s got an iPad plugged right into his computer and he’s testing something that he’s making.
“I’m an amateur geek at heart, hence all of the screens, and throughout my PhD, I had issues with recruiting patients for the study,”he explains. “Since the solution to everything in the world is an app and I’ve made some medical apps in the past, I made a piece of software to help with that.”
Morgan is a clinical anaesthetist and also works in intensive care. However, his interests spread wider than practice and he’s also, evidently, very interested in academia and how technology can support clinical practice.
Originally from Neath, Morgan trained in Cardiff and Bristol before being in the military for a short time.
“I went away to Australia for a year with my family, then returned here in 2011, at which point I decided I was going to do a PhD Basic Sciences, which was slightly odd given my experience,”he continues. “So at that point I was employed by Cardiff University as a clinical lecturer, doing full time PhD Basic Science and also had a clinical component to the job.”
Morgan finished his PhD in August 2014 and the week before we speak, he underwent his Viva from which, he says laughing, he is still trembling.
“I’ve got a year and a bit of training left – the end is finally in sight. I feel like I might retire shortly after it,”he laughs.
Morgan’s PhD looked at trying to find a better way to identify bugs in people with severe infection.
“Rather than look for those bugs directly – which can be tricky and problematic – we created a method that uses a patient’s own immune response to those bugs to predict what they are. We’ve coined the term immune fingerprinting–and some bugs give a very characteristic finger print, which looks very different to other bugs for example. So that’s the crux of it,”Morgan says.
If that seems a little much at first, Morgan offers the following:
“Severe infection kills more people in the UK than breast cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer combined, but isn’t talked about very much –often it’s not the actual infection which kills people, and that’s odd really,”he continues. “It’s the person’s response to that infection which kills them and the kind of treatments we’ve been using haven’t really changed from the time of Louis Pasteur. The ways we look for infections are the same really as they were in 1840.”
Morgan’s now in the process of looking to see where he can take the research next. He’s currently in discussion with intellectual property (IP) advisors to see where it could go.
Besides his direct medical research, Morgan is also undertaking a great bit of research into technology and its uses in patient care.
“I came across a term a year or so ago, which until I read it, I didn’t realise I was that. The term is Edupunk. I hadn’t heard before but it’s a great term because it kind of combines anarchy and education,”he says. “I studied in a small comprehensive school and I told my careers tutor I wanted to be Fox Mulder, from the X-Files and they laughed. But it seems now with the internet, with iTunes U, MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) courses and other things, actually education is a bit of a meritocracy –you can do what you want. I’ve tried to learn new things and new skills through self-directed learning and the main one over the last five years has probably been computer programming –I made a series of medical apps, and now that helps in my everyday work and other projects like this.“
The this that he’s referring to are the two projects that he’s working on at the moment. The one is for recruiting patients into clinical trials, the other is for helping intensive care patients to communicate.
“There’s lots of analytics built into the clinical trial recruitment software which will inform people running the trial why they may be struggling to recruit patients and why some centres aren’t doing as well,”he says. “The other project I’m doing at the minute is an iPad app which uses eye tracking to help patients on intensive care to communicate, because my clinical work around my PhD was all in an intensive care unit where people were there long term. I’m dreadful at lip-reading, and it really used to frustrate me, so this is the latest thing.”
Then Morgan says a thing which is very interesting: “It’s hard for me to see a strict division between working clinically in the hospital, working for my PhD at university and working at home on my laptop just playing.”
When it’s pointed out to Morgan that this playfulness in research is what lead to many of the most significant results throughout history, it looks as though he’s never really thought about it:
“I love learning new skills but I’m perhaps not so good at buying a 600 page textbook and going to a lecture theatre for six months through Open University or something,”he says in response. “I’d much rather delve into what’s out there and have a play and have a go and see what works really – that’s why I love this term edu-punk, I think it should be encouraged.”
Morgan’s outlook and enthusiasm for what he does is really inspiring. In closing, he says:
“I think Medicine is a great job and I’m very pleased where I am in life and the Universe. For me, the divisions between work, self, family, interests are broken down really and that’s great –that’s where people should aim for –it’s certainly where I want to aim for in life. I don’t want to knock off at 5pm and not think about it, because it’s part of what I do.”