It can be difficult to launch a career as a physician–scientist, especially when budget cuts are making research funding harder to find—and this is doubly true for a small specialty like otolaryngology. That challenge is the reasoning behind the Triological Society’s grant programs. The society, which has awarded more than $2.5 million in grants since 1994, promotes research into the causes and treatments of ear, nose and throat diseases.
Explore this issue:September 2011
One of the grant programs, the Career Development Award, provides up to $40,000 for research career development support over a one- or two-year period. The grants are meant for young physicians specializing in otolaryngology–head and neck surgery who can use the funds to springboard their research careers. (Visit triological.org to learn how to apply for a grant.)
ENT Today talked to the two physicians awarded the 2011 grants to learn about their research and what the grant money means to their scientific investigations and careers.
Research: Dr. Tan’s research seeks to test the hypothesis that some patients with chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps (CRSwNP) have an autoimmune component that exacerbates the severity of their disease. Dr. Tan is also working to evaluate whether recently discovered innate immune defects of the nasal epithelium may contribute to the B-cell dysregulation and autoimmunity observed in CRSwNP.
Question: How did you first become interested in this topic?
Answer: When I came to the lab at Northwestern, the principal investigator I worked with had made an interesting discovery that the epithelial cells in the nasal mucosa make a very potent cytokine that activates B cells. This cytokine was found specifically in the form of chronic sinusitis that is associated with nasal polyps. Our research indicates that there are a lot of B cells found within nasal polyps, and they frequently organize into little clusters. When you find these clusters elsewhere in the body, they signify that the B cells are proliferating and also changing the receptivity of the antibodies. These clusters are frequently found in inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Sjögren’s syndrome. We were intrigued that similar processes were going on locally within a nasal polyp and did some experiments that found that self-reactive antibodies were found at higher levels in nasal polyps. We are interested in whether or not these self-reactive antibodies may result in more severe inflammation and cause disease to recur.
Q: What is it about B cells that has kept you interested since medical school?