A Conversation with Denise McKeown

This month IATDMCT Blogger, Jana Stojanova, interviewed fellow Young Scientist Denise McKeown (Glasgow, UK) to see the path her career has taken over the past 13 years. Denise has been an active YS member of IATDMCT for the past 12 years and is currently the Chair of both the Young Scientist Committee and the Communications Committee.


Denise Anne McKeown
Forensic Toxicologist
Forensic Medicine and Science, University of Glasgow, UK


I am intrigued that you are a Forensic Toxicologist! How did your career path lead you to IATDMCT?

Prior to my current position, I worked for just under 10 years as part of Professor David W. Holt’s group at Analytical Services International (ASI), St George’s – University of London. During my time there I specialised in the development and validation of (bio)analytical methodologies (in particular LC-MS/MS) for application to the areas of therapeutic drug monitoring (TDM), clinical toxicology (CT) and forensic toxicology (FT). My main work and research focused on the development of TDM services (immunosuppressives, antifungals, antiretrovirals etc), acting as an analytical study director for clinical drug trials and reporting post-mortem FT case work. I also became involved in various projects working towards the standardisation of LC-MS/MS assays within CT settings.

David first introduced me to IATDMCT at the 2003 Pre-Congress Symposium held in Basel, Switzerland. From that first introduction, it was evident that IATDMCT was a friendly and welcoming association formed of dedicated individuals who are willing to work together in order to improve patient care. As my path has progressed the association has also grown to incorporate TDM, CT and with a natural overlap into FT topics.

Can you tell us a little bit about your respective roles? What is a typical day like for you?

Since September 2012, I have worked as a Forensic Toxicologist at Forensic Medicine and Science (FMS), University of Glasgow. FMS provides a post-mortem FT service to the Scottish Government Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), receiving over 3000 post-mortem cases per year from across Scotland. FMS is dedicated to training future national and international Forensic Toxicologists and Forensic Pathologists; coordinating an MSc in Forensic Toxicology and through its well established PhD programme. I am very fortunate to say that I don’t have a typical day as such – it varies from day to day. From writing case reports to attending court to maintaining our ISO17025 UKAS accreditation to coordinating the laboratory analytical development to lecturing on our MSc course to supervising PhD students to pursuing my research interests – it is just as well I have my diary to keep me organised!

Is there anything that is unique about your department in terms of CT or FT and that you think should be implemented within other institutions?

FMS is unique nationally as it is one of the only institutions where both the Forensic Toxicologists and Forensic Pathologists are based within the same unit. This is extremely beneficial to our case work and ensures a thorough collaborative investigation is performed for all cases. It provides an excellent environment for learning where both disciplines are continually learning from each other. I liken it to IATDMCT’s philosophy of encouraging scientists and physicians to work together in order to achieve the best outcome for the patients.

Is there anything that you’ve seen elsewhere or heard about and thought “I’d like to incorporate that idea at my center”?

As my main interests focus on the development of bioanalytical methodologies, I am always on the lookout for the latest technologies or gadgets that I can envisage incorporating into our laboratories. As the shift to High Resolution Mass Spectrometry is rapidly progressing I am very excited to have two LC-QTOF instruments and I am about to embark upon developing a comprehensive screening method for our routine service laboratory.

What sort of research do you have on the horizon that you think might influence CT or FT practice in the future?

As with most FT laboratories the immediate challenge is keeping up with the ever-evolving Novel Psychoactive Substance (NPS) market to ensure that we have a fit for purpose service. FMS is active in this research; focusing on the development of bioanalytical methodologies to detect NPS and applying these to samples collected through various collaborative studies. FMS has established links with A&E Departments in the West of Scotland, Police Scotland and Scottish Prison Services in order to look at the prevalence of NPS within these settings and to gain a better understanding of the impact they are having nationally. It is this type of research that appeals to my CT roots as it is only through these clinical findings we can begin to interpret our post-mortem toxicology case work.

How do you keep up-to-date in your field?

Established Ways
As we all know it is essential to attend both national and international meetings to keep-up-to date with the latest research and developments with our fields and to establish collaborative links. Reading, Reading and more Reading – has always been the key to being well informed but we now have so many exciting ways to do this electronically!

New Ways
As the IATDMCT Communications Committee Chair I am interested in all the various ways this can be achieved from social media apps including Twitter, LinkedIn, RSS feeds, Blogs and much more…  I still get excited using Congress Apps and having “Posters in my Pocket”!

What advice would you give to Young Scientists who are considering joining IATDMCT?

IATDMCT is a wonderful and vibrant association which welcomes and supports its Young Scientist members. I have been an active Young Scientist member since 2003 and I am currently the Chair of the Young Scientists Committee, Chair of the Communications Committee and Associate Editor of the Compass (Quarterly Newsletter). Through these activities I have had the opportunity to meet and network with experts in the fields of TDM, CT and FT. This has all been of great educational benefit to me and has allowed me to establish collaborative opportunities and advance my career. Young Scientists are the future of IATDMCT – I would encourage all Young Scientists to become a member and to take an active role within our association.

Which IATDMCT member would you like us to interview, and why? What would you like to ask them?

I would like to interview Professor David Holt, one of IATDMCT’s Past Presidents and an excellent mentor and educator. I would like to thank David for his investment in me and for encouraging and guiding me to become the scientist I am today!


The content of the IATDMCT Blog does not necessarily have the endorsement of the Association.
Denise Anne McKeown