1. How did you become interested in translational gastroenterology?
My original interest was immunology, in particular innate immune cells called monocytes. During my MSc, I studied their function in the blood of patients with diabetes and obesity. I was fortunate to win a Molecular Medicine Ireland (MMI) scholarship to fund my PhD and it was there I first became interested in translational gastroenterology. I investigated monocyte profiles and function in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and how these cells changed after anti-TNF therapy, infliximab. I interacted with the patients during their drug infusions and got to understand how this disease affects their day-to-day life. From this experience, I knew I wanted to stay in this particular research area.
2. What are you currently working on and what importance does your work hold for current patients with gastrointestinal issues?
I am currently a postdoctoral research fellow in Prof. Keshav’s lab and we are in collaboration with the Experimental Medicine Unit in GlaxoSmithKline. My research is identifying the role of lymphocyte activation gene (LAG)-3 in ulcerative colitis. LAG-3 is upregulated early after T-cell stimulation, and is therefore a marker of recently activated T-cells. Targeting these cells for therapeutic depletion might provide a mechanism for selectively eliminating lymphocytes contributing to the pathogenesis of chronic inflammatory disease, while sparing the non-activated population that are then available to combat infection. My research focuses on the potential role and viability as a novel drug target of LAG-3 expressing T cells in UC.
3. What do you enjoy most about scientific research?
Knowing that your research is discovering something (that hopefully), no one else has discovered before. Being part of research that could contribute to a drug therapy or diagnostic assay for certain diseases is very exciting. Overall, scientific research is trying to make a difference in patients’ lives.
4. What’s the best part of being an Oxford University TGU member?
The access to patient samples is extremely beneficial to me as a scientist. Working with academics and clinicians from such diverse backgrounds is also an amazing part of being a TGU member.