"I am really excited to take up the Truelove chair in gastroenterology. My background is in infectious diseases and in the last decade or so I have focused mainly on liver disease caused by hepatitis viruses. The focus of my work has been to understand how host immunity dictates the outcome of such infections and also how the virus is able to establish persistence. Part of the work, together with Ellie Barnes at the Peter Medawar Building for Pathogen Research, has been to harness the successful T cell immunity we identified in order to develop vaccines for hepatitis C.
In the midst of this we came across some unexpected groups of T cells in the liver and recently my group became interested in how such cells work and what they do in health and disease. Interestingly such cells (which we identify through expression of a surface marker CD161) seem to form a network of lymphocytes that are concentrated in the gut and liver - and which are locally dominant cell populations. Our working hypothesis is that are involved in mucosal defence against pathogens at these sites, but they may become dysregulated in inflammatory disease. Even more recently it appears the same cell types are involved in anti-cancer responses.
Fiona Powrie, my predecessor in this chair, did a great job in galvanising the team and bringing basic science and clinical studies closely together in the TGU. My top priority is to maintain this momentum and make sure the studies of patients are innovative and utilise the best human immunology and molecular biology techniques available. I want to make sure studies of both the liver and the gut are well represented and also integrated wherever possible and so diseases such as primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) linked to inflammatory bowel disease are really important. Additionally there is amazing work going on on GI-associated cancers in Oxford and the TGU can play an important role in this. Finally as a longer term aim much of the work to date has focused on mechanisms of inflammation, but analysis of repair pathways leading to scarring and cancer, as well as normal healing could yield new therapies in future.
The TGU has a very talented group of clinical investigators and basic scientists at its core. It is in a great position to take advantage of the well organised clinical cohorts facilitated by the Biomedical Research Centre and the Oxford University Hospitals, to help find the causes of and mechanisms behind liver and gut disease, as well as providing new and innovative treatment pathways - and hopefully cures. It is an exciting job and I will keep the website updated with progress."
1st December 2015