How did you become interested in translational gastroenterology?
I became interested in translational gastroenterology unexpectedly through my prior work on vaccine immunology, which is the subject area I studied during my PhD. I initially reached out to Professor Klenerman about joining his group to continue this work. It was at this time that Professor Klenerman introduced me to the other aspect of his lab’s work examining an unconventional T cell population in the gut and the liver termed mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells. This area of research piqued my interest and has led to a shift in my research away from vaccine immunology and towards mucosal immunology. From this stepping off point, I have further expanded my interests in mucosal immunology to include: additional unconventional gamma/delta T cell populations, coeliac disease, and tissue residency of T cell populations.
What are you currently working on and what importance does your work hold for current patients with gastrointestinal issues? I have just taken up a position as a postdoctoral fellow for the Human Cell Atlas (HCA) project under the joint supervision of Professors Klenerman and Uhlig. The HCA is a multi-centre collaboration within the UK, and internationally, to use next-generation single-cell sequencing technologies to characterize all of the different cell populations in the human body. At Oxford, we are specifically focused on mapping the cell populations found in the human intestine in health and inflammatory diseases (e.g. Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and coeliac disease), hence the interest of this project to the TGU.
This project will have a huge potential impact on our understanding, and potentially treatment, of inflammatory diseases of the intestine. By using these emerging techniques we will be able to quantify in the greatest detail the shared and divergent characteristics of these diseases. By analysing all immune cell populations simultaneously we will minimize the bias in our investigations, which might cause us to miss unexpected but critical cell populations for a given disease. Furthermore, by comparing multiple diseases we will be able to determine shared pathways that could be therapeutically targeted to help treat multiple diseases, and we will identify unique aspects of each disease where tailored therapies could be developed.
What do you enjoy most about scientific research?
The opportunity to work as a part of a research team to make fundamental discoveries about the world is what drives my enthusiasm for science. Science is at its best when it is done in a collaborative manner, and the opportunity to work with other highly motivated researchers towards a common goal is a particularly enjoyable aspect of science. Related to this, the feeling of discovery when your team is the first set of people ever to describe or explain a phenomenon is a very unique feeling to science, and one that drives me – it’s the feeling of the unknown and the unexplored.
What’s the best part of being an Oxford University TGU member?
The best part about being a member of the TGU are the great colleagues and collaborators. The unit is comprised of a diverse group of researchers from all over the world, with diverse backgrounds and scientific interests. This blend of scientists and clinicians makes for a unique, rich, and highly enjoyable work environment. Everyone is friendly and helpful, and the general enthusiasm that everyone has for their work lifts the unit as a whole.