Meet our Inspiring People

Meet Neal Millar. He leads a busy life, working as a Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon as well as a Senior Clinical Research Fellow here at the University of Glasgow. 

Perfect mix

Neal specialises in shoulder surgery with a key interest in tendon problems. When he is not operating or consulting with patients at the hospital, he can be found in a University lab researching tendon injuries or teaching medical students how to deal with tendon problems.

Neal said: “It’s a busy job but it’s a good balance between being a surgeon and a scientist.  I like meeting with patients and helping them but I also enjoy working with scientists and discovering new things. It’s the perfect mix.”

One of the main research projects Neal is currently working on involves researching small molecules called microRNA’s that control gene expression in tendon disease.

Neal said: “The gene we are interested in is collagen because that is what makes up your tendon. We have a Scottish Enterprise Proof of Concept Grant to research this area and hopefully develop an injectable therapy for patients with tendinopathy . The project is going very well.”

Although tendon injuries are prevalent, Neal says generally tendon injuries are poorly understood. However Neal and his team are trying to change that.

He said: “There is a lot still to discover and there are a lot of patients out there to help.  If I don’t have the answer to a patient’s problem straight away, I can tell them about research we are doing in the lab that may solve their problem in the future. Some of my patients have become involved with our research and it gives them the chance to help with future findings and research.”

Working abroad

Originally from Ballygally, a small village in Northern Ireland, Neal first moved to Glasgow to study medicine at the University of Glasgow. After completing his degree and working in early medical jobs in Glasgow, he had the opportunity to move to Sydney, Australia.

He said: “It was brilliant working in Sydney and very welcoming place. I gained a lot of experience. Australians are very sporty people so they get lots of tendon injuries which meant I had a lot of patients to treat!”

Neal also completed a fellowship in New York. As in his current job he split his time between treating patients and research.

He said: “I moved over to New York with my wife and children and we had a great time. My oldest daughter even started to develop an American accent! It was good to work with America surgeons, I learnt a lot there but it reinforced that we are very good at what we do here in Glasgow. Using the current science we are just as good as America, if not better!”

Inspiring People

Neal has received support and guidance from colleagues at the University, particularly Director of the Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, Professor Iain Mcinnes and Senior Molecular Biologist, Dr Derek Gilchrist.

Neal said: “Iain has been my mentor throughout my time here and having a person to support your career is so helpful. Some parts of the job can be difficult so it is great to have someone like Iain, who has been through it all before to guide me. He has been extremely supportive of developing orthopaedic research in Glasgow and in letting me progress my academic career. Another person who inspires my work is Derek Gilchrist, he is a brilliant scientist and has really opened by eyes to the high level of science you need to understand to discover cures.”

Looking to the future, Neal would like to continue his work at the University of Glasgow.

He said: “I would like to carry out promoting orthopaedic research; I want to be part of curing patients and understanding the problems. There are great skills in Glasgow to do this work.”

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

I have three young daughters; ages seven, three and eight months old so they keep me very busy. I like to spend time with them and my wife; we go for walks or for coffee. Spending time with them is the best thing to do. 

What did you want to be when you were a child?

When I was small, I wanted to be a teacher, which I sort of ended up being because I lecture students. Then, when I was in secondary school I figured out that I wanted to be a doctor because I like talking to people and I wanted to help people; I really enjoy that aspect of the job. 

What’s the last film you watched?

I saw ‘The Theory of Everything’ about Stephen Hawking. It was a very good film and very inspiring. It makes you realise that people with a disability have just as much to give as anyone else. The film told the story of his life really well.

If you won the lottery what is the first thing you would buy?

I would pay for a trip for my family to go to Sydney, for at least a month. My wife and I had a great time living there but the kids have never been. I’d love to show them Sydney. 

First published: 2 March 2015

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