Combining research and clinical care in dermatology: a trainee's story
Dr Siobhan Muthiah is a Consultant with Newcastle Hospitals, who took part in a research project funded by the NIHR Newcastle BRC. She tells us how this has shaped her clinical career and her research plans for the future.
Dr Muthiah worked on ‘Scratching the surface: Gene signatures in pigmented skin lesions’ with Principal Investigator, Dr Neil Rajan. During this time, she completed her studies and gained valuable research experience. She tells us about the project, what research skills she gained, and where she plans to go next.
What was your role in this project?
I was a Clinical Research Associate and my role was to investigate the gene expression signatures of benign pigmented skin lesions and melanoma. Through this work we aim to develop a point-of-care diagnostic test that could be used to improve the diagnostic pathway of patients presenting with a pigmented skin lesion.
How did this experience help you in your professional role?
This research formed the basis of my Doctor of Medicine (MD) studies. It also gave me a better understanding of the genetic mechanisms behind the development of pigmented lesions and melanoma.
How did this experience help your research career?
I have developed many new skills, such as grant application writing, learning and optimising research techniques, and academic writing. I have also collaborated with other research groups and this has helped me gain important contacts for my future as a researcher. More specifically, this project taught me how to manage large volumes of genomic data. Through bioinformatics and collaborations with other groups, I have been successful in creating biologically meaningful data.
Do you have plans to pursue research opportunities in the next year?
I would be keen to continue this project by validating my findings with a proof-of-concept study. I would like to apply for ethical approval and funding for this in the next year or so.
Do you have plans to pursue research opportunities in the longer term?
I would be very keen to continue my interest in research through the supervision of junior trainees.
Please tell us about any collaborations you made during this work.
Using the genomic data from my project, I collaborated with a bioinformatician, Kile Green, who was working in Professor Haniffa’s Lab at the time. We used machine learning approaches to helpfully reduce the number of discriminatory genes that could be used for a point of care test. Furthermore, we identified a subgroup of our patients who had a unique collection of pigmented skin lesions, and this led to collaborations with the Veronica Kinsler Lab group at the Francis Crick Institute. Through this collaboration, our data contributed to a larger collaboration with research groups across Europe, resulting in novel findings that were published and presented in national and international meetings.
Please give us your top three highlights of being supported by the Newcastle BRC/being part of this project
Through BRC support, I have been able to:
- undertake an MD
- publish findings of a gene associated with the presence of an increased number of moles and melanoma development in one limb
- research and develop a greater understanding of a topic I am passionate about.
What did you find challenging?
Starting as a clinician with limited research experience was challenging. However, being able to research a clinically relevant topic and have the support of other researchers and Newcastle BRC along the way, helped me overcome those obstacles.