Hannah Chen

1. How did you become interested in translational gastroenterology?

Hannah Chen

I think the immune system at the mucosal interface is the most fascinating part of the body; not only does it have to prevent pathogen invasion, at the same time it also has to establish tolerance to environmental antigens and the balance is a delicate one to maintain. Many factors can tip the equilibrium the wrong way. The complexity of it presents the greatest challenge to an immunologist and keeps challenging me to develop new techniques and ask different questions. 

2. What are you currently working on and what importance does your work hold for current patients with gastrointestinal issues?

I’ve just finished a project looking at how the mesenchymal compartment interacts with the immune system to perpetuate chronic inflammation. From this project we’ve identified a few promising therapeutic targets which I’ve validated extensively using tissue biopsy samples donated to us from participating patients. This work really helps us look at how disease-associated pathogenic markers change in quiescent versus active disease, or in normal versus inflamed tissues, and inform how we can address the imbalance during mucosal inflammation.   

We’re now looking to develop therapeutic antibodies against some of the disease targets we have identified in patients with active IBD. New therapies are constantly needed for patients who fail to respond to conventional therapies, or those who lose response after a period of treatment. Developing such new therapies is our ultimate goal.

3. What do you enjoy most about scientific research?

Definitely the translational aspects. Finding new drug targets and validating them is my favourite part of the job. Once that first stage is done, trying to push selected targets into translational/clinical development keeps me highly motivated.                                         

4. What’s the best part of being an Oxford University TGU member?

I work with a great team of immunologists led by Professor Alison Simmons and it’s a very productive and collaborative environment. I’ve really enjoyed being mentored by Alison and I’m learning a lot; the research team is also excellent, sharing ideas and working together to make progress.

I’m also very grateful to all the very kind and helpful doctors and biobankers at the TGU who help us collect patient samples during their endoscopy sessions. We are also supported by a great team of research nurses who help to obtain patient consent and collect samples.