Clinician-scientist: Dr Jason Tye-Din

Clincian-scientist: Dr Jason Tye-Din (left)Specialty: Gastroenterology, MBBS PhD FRACP

Clinical appointment: Gastroenterologist, The Royal Melbourne Hospital 

When did you start at the institute?

Approaching a decade! I began my PhD at the institute in Dr Bob Anderson's lab in 2003. We had met a decade earlier when I was still a medical student and we met again as I was completing my gastroenterology training shortly after his return from Oxford to discuss research.

What are you currently researching at the institute?

Our work focuses on translating an understanding of the toxicity of gluten into improved health for patients with coeliac disease. Suboptimal rates of diagnosis and a costly, restrictive and complex lifelong gluten exclusion diet are major clinical challenges. We have built out a platform of immunological tools to assess the toxicity of gluten using samples from volunteers with coeliac disease.

Our work has identified the key peptides that make gluten in wheat, rye and barley toxic to people with the most common genetic form of coeliac disease. The information underpins the design of peptide-based applications, such as improved diagnostic tests and novel therapies for coeliac disease.

We are currently researching immune responses to gluten as it relates to all genetic subtypes of coeliac disease as well as in children with coeliac disease. We are also studying the mechanisms of why some patients develop symptoms after gluten exposure.

How has your research had an impact on the community, or how do you hope your research will impact the community?

Through an understanding of the key peptides driving the toxicity of gluten we have designed a novel vaccine therapy for coeliac disease (Nexvax2®). The aim of Nexvax2® is to restore immune tolerance to gluten to allow a return to a normal diet and good health. Such an approach will revolutionise treatment of this disease at a global level if shown to be clinically effective and safe. A first-in-man phase I clinical trial of Nexvax2® was completed in 2010 and Boston-based biotechnology company ImmusanT Inc is now advancing development of this vaccine. Improved diagnostic tests based on these key peptides are also feasible, and could address the limitations of current diagnostic tools in clinical practice.

What made you want to become a clinician-scientist, and how did you get involved in medical research?

I love clinical medicine. It is a privilege to have a career that allows you to be directly involved in a person's care and the opportunity to improve their health and wellbeing. However true advances in medicine that can impact patient care on a global scale can only be made through research, and a clinician-scientist is in many ways ideally positioned to make the most of this opportunity by capitalising on the benefits of their clinical training to complement basic research.

It was the opportunity to work on a clinically relevant and innovative translational project with Dr Bob Anderson that really kick-started my desire to undertake this duality of careers. My current position now combines clinical care of patients, basic translational research, medical professional education, and consulting for ImmusanT Inc.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to become a clinician-scientist?

With the right mindset you can discover a career that is both challenging and very rewarding. Be open and prepared to learn a whole new discipline, often from people substantially younger than you! Time-management skills are critical ¬– there are a lot of competing demands on your time.

There is a significant financial opportunity cost of being a clinician-scientist. Foregoing much of the financial benefits of a career in clinical medicine, which you've spent a long time studying for (usually 10 or more years), is challenging, but the rewards and satisfaction of undertaking research can be great.

What are the benefits of being a clinician-scientist at the institute?

There are numerous benefits to being a clinician-scientist and I would encourage people to seek our opportunities and give it a try. The career provides a mix of challenges that always keeps things fresh. I have developed many skills that I would never learnt in clinical medicine and of course research is highly regarded for appointments in academic teaching hospitals.

The institute’s proximity to The Royal Melbourne Hospital makes it ideally suited to undertake translational research and it is great that the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute has supported the development of the Clinical Translation Centre at the institute. This is exciting, and the stronger mandate for human-based research will hopefully attract more clinicians to undertake research at the institute.

Find out more about becoming a clinician-scientist at the institute.