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Nick is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Translational Gastroenterology Unit (Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine). He discusses his research and experience of the Oxford-UCB Fellowship.

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What is your research background?

My Ph.D. thesis research was performed in the laboratory of Professor Dan Barouch at Harvard University. My project investigated the role of CD4+ T cells in regulating cellular and humoral immune responses induced by candidate adenovirus vector vaccines. Through this project, I developed a groundwork in immunology techniques for the study of T cell and B cell responses. Prior to my thesis, I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Washington where I studied microbiology. During my undergraduate training, I performed research on antibody responses to HIV in the laboratories of Professor Nancy Haigwood and Professor Julie Overbaugh.

What are you researching now?

My current Oxford-UCB project (based in the Translational Gastroenterology Unit) is focused on understanding the function and development of a population of T cells that are abundant in human mucosal tissues, and display traits characteristic of conventional T cells as well as traits of innate immune cells, such as NK cells. This cell population is defined by the expression of the molecule CD161, and these cells can exceed 50% of CD8+ T cells found within portions of the intestinal tract. The three main focuses of my project are: (1) to more completely define the functional traits of CD161-expressing CD8 T cells; (2) to understand the ontogeny of this cell population; (3) to investigate the role of these cells in auto-immune diseases of the intestine – namely Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.

What has your experience of this Fellowship been like?

My experience with the fellowship has been very positive. UCB has struck a good balance between allowing for academic freedom and independence, while also providing support and guidance when requested. The fellowship has provided an excellent framework for moving a research project towards completion, while also allowing a small, but respectable, amount of latitude to follow unexpected twists and turns as they are identified during the natural course of any project. A specific positive of the fellowship is that UCB organizes an annual conference where all academic researchers funded by UCB gather to share their progress and network. This provides an excellent opportunity to gather feedback, in a confidential setting, from a diverse set of researchers, many of whom are world leaders in their fields.

What has been the highlight of the Fellowship so far?

Through the fellowship, I have met a number of researchers at the University as well as at UCB. As a researcher coming to Oxford from overseas, I had no research connections prior to my arrival. The ability to connect with the other Oxford-UCB fellows has proven invaluable to establishing a network with other researchers, which is critical to long-term success.

Why do you think it is important for researchers to engage with industry?

There are two major benefits to collaborating with industry. Firstly, industry-driven research always has a focus on the translational aspects of a project. This can be quite different from some areas of very open-ended academic research, and can provide a positive and unique perspective on research goals and the research process. Secondly, industry labs often have access to equipment and expertise that may not be readily available in the academic setting. Aa collaboration with industry labs can therefore potentially open new avenues of research based on techniques that would otherwise be unavailable.

Do you have any advice for applicants to this Fellowship?

As an applicant, you will get the most out of the Fellowship if the project you propose aligns with one of the research interests of UCB. This will best allow you to collaborate with UCB researchers with regards to expertise, techniques, and equipment, which are all areas of unique opportunity that come with such a Fellowship.

What are your aspirations for the future of your research?

My long-term goals are to establish my own (semi-)independent research group with a focus on human mucosal T cell immunology. I hope to diversify my areas of focus into both auto-immunity and infectious disease immunology.

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