How did you become interested in translational gastroenterology?
I come from a molecular biology background and at the beginning I felt a bit disoriented in this new field. However, it was not long until I became fascinated by gut immunology. The gastrointestinal tract is extremely important in maintaining health and it is the site where our cells come into direct contact with the external environment, and for this reason evolution has selected for a certain degree of tolerance in the gut. This balance allows millions of millions of bacteria to colonize the gut playing a relevant role in maintaining the homeostasis of this organ. The gut is considered a complex organ that has a significant impact in many physiological processes including regulation of the immune system and the nervous system. So how can you not be attracted by such a fascinating and puzzling research field?
What are you currently working on and what importance does your work hold for current patients with gastrointestinal issues?
I am currently working on monogenic IBD, trying to understand the mechanisms behind the genetic defects and the early onset of bowel inflammation. Several rare genetic defects are associated with very early onset IBD and have not been thoroughly investigated. These diseases are orphan disorders and lack drug treatment options.
My project is focused on mimicking such early onset defects in vitro, by generating induced pluripotent stem cell-derived macrophages which have been gene edited to mirror patient defects. Macrophages play a key role in the inflammatory process during IBD, which is why I am interested in studying how these cells carrying genetic defects respond in terms of bacterial infection and cytokine production. I believe that meticulously studying these rare disorders will lead to possible therapeutic treatments not only in monogenic forms of IBD, but also in polygenic IBD.
What do you enjoy most about scientific research?
The beauty of scientific research is that you allow new exciting ideas to grow, satisfy your curiosity and at the same time have the chance to have a positive impact on patients’ lives. Research is a very dynamic field, it is a continuous learning process and it gives you the chance to meet many people with interesting ideas, which can often lead to fruitful discussions and collaborations.
What’s the best part of being an Oxford University TGU member?
I feel very lucky to be part of Oxford University and specifically the TGU since it is a very friendly and highly rigorous but rewarding environment. What I appreciate the most about being in the TGU is being part of the effort to translate bench work into something that can ameliorate patient conditions and quality of life.