Clinician-scientist: Dr Bob Anderson
Specialty: Gastroenterology (specialist accreditation in Gastroenterology and General Medicine), MB ChB BMedSc PhD FRACP
Clinical appointment: Department of Gastroenterology, The Royal Melbourne Hospital
When did you start at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute?
I have been at the institute since March 2002.
What are you currently researching at the institute?
I am identifying the molecular determinants in gluten that trigger coeliac disease, and using these to develop diagnostics and therapeutics for coeliac disease. Our work is primarily focused on T cells and antibodies, the adaptive arm of the immune system, which targets gluten peptides.
How has your research had an impact in the community?
We have developed and tested in patients the first therapeutic for coeliac disease, and have now developed a simple companion blood test, that together could replace the need for a gluten-free diet and invasive intestinal biopsies.
Our research led to the widespread introduction of genetic testing for coeliac disease in Australia. In collaboration with colleagues and the Coeliac Society, I have instigated a collective of professionals who have undertaken a systematic education of Australian doctors and other health professionals to recognise and appropriately treat coeliac disease, in parallel with rapidly rising rates of diagnosis and adoption of gluten-free diets.
What made you want to become a clinician-scientist, and how did you get involved in medical research?
I always wanted to discover something that would have a positive impact on the lives of patients, and substantially change medical care. I believe clinical medicine is the bedrock of medical research, ensuring it remains 'rational' and relevant to the community.
I completed a one-year research degree (BMedSc), supervised by an clinician-scientist, after my 5th year at medical school. The research was looking at the immunology associated with inflammatory bowel disease, and led to further research in the same lab and field following my intern year. I felt that a complete specialist training was necessary to fully understand the limits of care and disease process in digestive diseases, so returned to clinical medicine for six years before doing a postdoc and becoming a hybrid clinician-scientist.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to become a clinician-scientist?
Patience and persistence is essential, remain engaged in both clinical medicine and research, follow your intuition, and cultivate your own entrepreneurship.
What are the benefits of being a clinician-scientist at the institute?
Most clinician-scientists are excellent clinicans but their engagement in science diminishes due to administrative responsibilities. The institute allows clinicians to remain up-to-date in science and provides excellent opportunities for scientific collaborations, allowing new scientific ideas to be applied and tested in human diseases.