Director of the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology (KIR)
Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology & Musculoskeletal Science (NDORMS)
Tell us a bit about your role
I lead a research group focussed on deciphering interactions between the intestinal microbiome and the immune system. How this dialogue promotes health and breaks down in diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and cancer.
In my role as Director of KIR, with my colleagues I strive to create an exciting scientific environment and research culture with a focus on combining discovery research with translational and clinical research to drive advances in diagnoses and therapies for chronic inflammatory diseases.
My journey started in a comprehensive school in Luton and then at Bath university where I studied biochemistry. After that I opted for something different-a trainee accountant role with Deloittes in London. The novelty of that soon wore off and I resumed my scientific training undertaking a PhD with Don Mason at the Sir Willam Dunn School of Pathology in Oxford. For my postdoc I went to the DNAX Research Institute in Palo Alto, an exciting time that fostered my interest in cytokines-intercellular mediators of the immune response. I returned to Oxford in 1996 as a Wellcome Senior Fellow in the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences. Wellcome supported my career as an SRF for 15 years before I finally was appointed as the inaugural Sidney Truelove Chair of Gastroenterology in 2009. I moved to Nuffield Department of Medicine to establish the Translational Gastroenterology Unit (TGU) bringing together clinicians and scientists to unravel digestive diseases. In 2014 the opportunity to apply for the Director of the Kennedy Institute came up. I wasn’t sure if that was the right role for me. I had known of the Kennedy since my PhD and its record of ground-breaking achievement in inflammatory diseases. The advice and encouragement of trusted colleagues outside of Oxford spurred me on and gave me the confidence to apply. In 2020, 6 years on it’s an honour and a privilege to be Director of the KIR and have the opportunity to work with such a talented group of staff and students. Our faculty is 50% women and we are committed to combining the highest scientific achievements with a research culture that supports and recognises all.
What is the most meaningful aspect of your work?
Discovering things-finding out new insights into how the immune system works. With colleagues, I have been fortunate to contribute to the discovery of two types of immune cells-regulatory T cells and Innate lymphoid cells. We are now focussing on how the complex community of bacteria that live on our body shapes the immune system to promote health
Working with others-science is a team effort and it is very rewarding to work with others to solve a problem and help everyone achieve their potential. I am so proud of my trainees who I hope developed a sense of community in our lab that helped them in their future endeavours.
Can you tell us about something you've done, contributed to that you're most proud of?
Establishing the Translational Gastroenterology Unit (TGU). It was a big risk moving my discovery research lab, focussed on model systems from the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology to the John Radcliffe Hospital. The aim was to establish a discovery to translational science pipeline. Some colleagues warned me against it but it was an exciting and productive time that shaped my future research programme. I also met the most wonderful group of clinical colleagues and despite the different cultures we forged a strong link of mutual respect between basic and clinical research. It is wonderful to the see the TGU grow from strength to strength today.
What changes would you most like to see in the Medical Sciences in the next 100 years?
Well 100 years is a long time. In the 30 years I have been in Oxford I have seen diversity and inclusion increase across all levels. However the pace of change is slow. We need some disruptive thinking to create an environment that seeks out the diverse people and ideas that will be required to tackle the existential threats humanity faces.