Inside the lab with CF researcher Laura
Hi Laura, How did you start out in CF research?
I qualified as a dietitian, and I've always been really interested in research. I had an opportunity to do a research study in a different gut condition, and it really opened my eyes about what research was all about - being systematic and investigating and finding the causes of things.
When the opportunity came up to do this CF research study, it felt like it was drawing together a lot of the different knowledge and experience I’d gained throughout my career.
Can you tell us what your research is all about?
My research, led by Professor Daniel Peckham, is looking at diet, the bugs that grow in our guts, tummy and bowel symptoms and links between these in adults with cystic fibrosis.
We know gut health is really important for people with CF and that gut symptoms can be really common and bothersome. In our research, we want to find out more about the different factors which might be causing the symptoms, but also whether there are things that could potentially help with them.
You normally have many different types of bacteria in your gut that can do a lot of good things linked with reducing inflammation. However, if there's a misbalance of bacteria, that potentially could trigger inflammation. We're looking at what might alter the balance of the different bacteria in the gut, for example, how CFTR modulators like Kaftrio might change it.
How could your research benefit people with CF in the future?
We hope to form recommendations and plan future studies to help improve gut health, which could have far-reaching benefits for overall health and well-being.
What’s a typical day like for you?
It has varied greatly throughout the project. Initially, I was focused on setting up the study and planning all the logistics, so it worked well.
Once all of this was in place, I predominantly spent my time in clinic with study participants, collecting study data and in the laboratory preparing samples for analysis. As well as people with CF from the Leeds CF clinic, I was co-ordinating with colleagues across the country. People with CF from Manchester, the Royal Papworth in Cambridge and Birmingham were also taking part.
When the study was collecting data, CF clinic days were particularly busy. I might be going to say hello to people to check if they were interested in hearing about the study, giving out written information to those who wanted to know more, or collecting samples and information from people who had already agreed to take part.
On lab days, I’d be preparing blood samples or extracting the DNA of the gut bacteria to send off for very specialised analysis. The DNA analysis would tell us which bacteria were present in the guts of the participants.
I am now working closely with our fantastic collaborators - analysing the data and preparing reports to share what we’ve found.
What do you love most about working in research?
I love the range of different tasks, learning new things and the continued collective effort to push boundaries and make a difference in the lives of people with CF. Our study participants have really inspired me.
I have also really valued experiences interacting with the wider CF community. For example, it was a privilege delivering a session as part of the CF Live series on gut health for the Trust; I have learnt so much from the people I work with and individuals with CF.
Has doing the research affected your clinical practice?
Yes, I think it has. I explain the research more now. I think that helps empower the individual, particularly in areas where there's some conflicting information. I explain that this is the best answer based on the evidence we have to help people understand why things are changing.
Advice on the best way to manage diet in CF or gut symptoms is a continuing picture and not a full stop. In medicine, we often expect it to be a full stop, ‘this is what you’ve got’ or ‘this is how to manage this symptom’. Whereas actually, it's always more complex.
How has the Trust supported your career?
Cystic Fibrosis Trust has supported my career in a number of important ways. This includes funding me to do this work. Alongside this, they have provided me with different opportunities to interact with the wider CF community, which has been invaluable. For example, I presented my research at the European CF Society conference this summer.
How do you relax at the end of the day / tell us about what you do outside of work!
I enjoy being out in the countryside, so when I get the chance, I go on a long walk, bike ride or run.
It's thanks to our incredible supporters that we can continue to be at the cutting edge of CF research. Making breakthroughs and discoveries that change lives for the better. Now and in the future. But we know this is just the start. Incredible progress has been made, but there is still a long way to go until everyone with CF can truly live a life unlimited. We won’t stop until we can all lead the lives we want. Until cystic fibrosis stops challenging, damaging or shortening lives. And you can be part of it.
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