Dr Emily Hughes
Guts UK/Dr Falk F1/F2 Research Grant Winner 2018
Title of project: Inflammatory crosstalk between adipose tissue and the liver
Dr Emily Hughes has just completed her degree in Medicine at the University of Southampton. She begins work as an F2 doctor at the Bradford and Leeds Teaching Hospitals carrying out her duties alongside her twelve month research project at the Department of Discovery and Translational Science, University of Leeds
Dr Hughes explains:
‘Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is one of the most common causes of liver disease, affecting 20 – 30% of people living in the United Kingdom. For most people this will never be a problem, however for some it can have serious side effects – sometimes leading to cancer and even death. There are currently no treatments for this disease. As almost everybody with this problem is overweight, we focused our research on whether the fat itself changes how the liver functions.
‘We know that in obesity, fat can become inflamed. When this happens the fat releases lots of a particular type of signal called a chemokine. We have found that in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease the fat ‘over-produces’ these chemokines. We speculate that these chemokines can travel from the fat to the liver, where they can make the liver disease worse.
‘Therefore, with a team from the University of Oxford, we want to analyse donated blood and tissue samples – comparing the levels of chemokines in the blood to the severity of liver disease.
‘We believe that a better understanding of how fat can affect the liver would be useful in developing specific treatments for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
‘On a personal note, this project holds particular interest for me as it attempts to address a huge and growing problem in an area that I am passionate about. I hope to explore my interest in liver disease throughout my career, and hope that this can produce real-world solutions that help improve the lives of patients living with disease.
Dr Hughes’ Supervisor Dr Richard Parker comments:
‘Dr Hughes has already successfully worked to perform a systematic review of outcomes in alcohol related liver disease with her work published in the online journal PLoS One. This work was the more impressive considering she was a final year medical student, tackling her examinations and securing her current academic post. This bodes well for this, her latest research project. The data that it will provide regarding adipose tissue function in NAFLD will be interesting and should provide the basis for further scientific research. I hope that this will be the start of an ongoing programme of work for us both.’
Winning the Dr Falk Core Research Grant at this early stage in my career is a huge honour. It validates my interest and encourages me to continue to pursue a career in academic hepatology. The grant itself will allow me to spend time in the lab – an invaluable experience, which will hopefully form the basis of future PhD applications. I am very excited to start to work with a diverse group of very knowledgeable researchers, and look forward to any new information that we uncover.Dr Emily Hughes