Dr Alastair Hayes

This story is part of the Guts UK Pancreatitis Awareness Campaign.

On November 2018 Guts UK launched a campaign to raise awareness of pancreatitis and funds for research. Please help us by sharing this story on Facebook and on Twitter tagging @GutsCharityUK.

This time we are sharing two separate but closely related stories from clinicians who work in pancreatitis research. This story is from Dr Alastair Hayes, who is a trainee surgeon and was our last Amelie Waring Fellow (the fellowship we award for research on pancreas diseases). Make sure you also read Prof. Damian Mole’s story, to find out about his groundbreaking research on acute pancreatitis at the University of Edinburgh.

Dr Alastair Hayes’s Story

My name is Alastair Hayes and I’m training as a General Surgeon. Through sponsorship by Guts UK, I recently had a fantastic opportunity to research acute pancreatitis during a 3-year PhD degree at Edinburgh University. As doctors, we meet patients with acute pancreatitis through the Accident and Emergency department, and not a week goes by without us admitting new patients to the hospital.  Many have never heard of pancreatitis or have little idea what it means for them.

Thankfully, the majority recover after a few days of intravenous fluids, pain killers and simple monitoring on the ward. A small number unfortunately get extremely sick. This often happens within a few days of developing abdominal pain, and these patients are taken to our intensive care unit where they are surrounded by various machines to support their vital organs. It is a horrible thing to see patients in this position and having to explain to their family that their loved one’s body systems are failing despite our best efforts with modern medicine.

Historically, when patients were very sick with pancreatitis, surgeons used to operate to remove some or all of the pancreas. This was found to be very risky and potentially harmful in already sick patients. These days, surgeons rarely operate and with the help of good quality CT scanners, are much more likely to insert drains near the pancreas, if that is required. In patients who recover quickly and where gallstones are identified as the most likely trigger, we often schedule keyhole surgery to remove the gallbladder to reduce the chances of pancreatitis occurring again. Both alcohol and smoking are also known to increase the risk of further attacks of both acute and chronic pancreatitis, and are best avoided.

The biggest challenge ahead for medical scientists and doctors treating pancreatitis is to better understand and treat those especially sick patients who end up in intensive care. Although the biology of acute pancreatitis is very complicated, modern biomedical science is advancing at a fast pace. This offers new ways to study cellular changes in sick patients, and gives us hope for testing exciting new drug treatments.

During my research sponsored by Guts UK (the Amelie Waring Fellowship) I had the privilege to undertake research in the lab of Professor Damian Mole, University of Edinburgh. Our focus was on studying the interaction between inflammation and metabolism, and how blocking metabolism might limit the damaging effects of acute inflammation. I look forward to seeing advances in research making a real difference to patient care in the near future.

What can you do?

Join in our Kranky Panky Weekend fun and fundraise for more pancreatitis research with Guts UK. Check out some of our fun ideas here!

Guts UK is proud to fund the only fellowship into pancreatitis in the UK. However, one fellowship every three years is not nearly enough for this potentially deadly condition with no specific treatment. We need to do more. Help Guts UK fund more research to find a treatment for pancreatitis by donating today.

More information

Find out about acute and chronic pancreatitis in our Conditions section and read tips and suggestions on how to manage chronic pancreatitis from those affected by this condition.