April-May 2016: Dr. Kate Williamson
Q: How did you become interested in the Gastroenterology field, especially in the research part of translational gastroenterology?
Although I originally wanted to be a physician, I wanted a procedural physician specialty, such as gastroenterology or cardiology, so the practical nature drew me in. But the fact that gasteroenterology is such a diverse specialty was the big pull.
Having said that, as much as I loved the diversity and working with the oesophagus through to the bowel, I became fascinated with primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) and its inextricable link with inflammatory bowel disease, and wanted to know more about this “gut liver axis.” I realised the only way to learn more and progress research was to research on human samples at the laboratory bench, and translate that into therapeutic possibilities.
Q: You've recently been honoured for a poster presentation; What are you currently working on and what importance does your work hold for current patients with gastrointestinal issues?
It was a great honour to be recognised for my work done so far. I am currently looking at gut homing lymphocytes, and their proportions in the peripheral blood and bowel in PSC/ ulcerative colitis (UC), and have found some differences in distribution. I am now teasing this out by confirming findings endoscopically and by immunohistochemistry, as well as the functional role of these cells.
I hope that if we find a key role for this subset of lymphocytes and/or cell surface markers, we can identify a therapeutic role for targeting them in the clinical setting, particularly as there are clinical agents available in this area. Potentially, this could benefit patients with PSC/UC, and prevent them developing complications such as liver failure and cancer.
Q: What do you enjoy most about scientific research
There is so much unknown. So much. I can have a question, and with the resources at hand in the Translational Gastroenterology Unit at Oxford, I can try and answer a particular question. Unlike clinical medicine, where we follow patterns, and what we are taught, in scientific research, you get to the bottom of things, and try to understand why diseases behave like they do, and how we can treat them from a fundamental level. Day to day it is fun to be in the lab, and interact with my scientist peers, but ultimately it all comes down to trying to make a difference, and discover something that will truly benefit patients.