I’m a specialty trainee in Paediatrics, and jumped off the MMC production line in 2011 to do an MD in asthma with Professor Jonathan Grigg at QMUL. We were collecting sputum samples from children to look at eosinophil counts as a biomarker for future exacerbations, but it didn’t really work. This left us with a bunch of motivated kids, who were interested in research, we had some good ideas, but needed funding for experiments.
Dendritic cells (DCs) are thought to be crucial in asthma as they determine allergic responses (or, at least, you can’t trigger allergy in a mouse if you remove their dendritic cells first). In cancer, therapies are being developed that target DCs, and dendritic cell targeted therapies may well be developed for asthma. The problem was that DCs hadn’t been isolated from children’s airways before.
I applied to the James Trust, who kindly gave us the money to pay for time on the big flow cytometer, and for antibodies to go hunting for these cells in children from the asthma clinic, and in healthy children. We collected sputum from healthy kids in local primary schools in east London, much to their mirth and disgust. Sputum is a bit gross.
It turned out that DCs could be found in children’s sputum, and that they differed between asthma and healthy controls in both number, and cell surface protein expression – the paper is hiding in this link and has been subsequently cited.
The James Trust grant allowed me to convert my MD to a PhD and I’ve now secured a further academic post. It was crucial to my academic training – and the food at the awards ceremony was delicious. Apply!