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Wesleyan RSM Trainee of the Year: Dr Akilhesh Jha

On Thursday 23 November five young doctors will compete for the coveted title of Wesleyan RSM Trainee of the Year 2017. Marking the culmination of the Royal Society of Medicine’s 2016/17 prize programme for trainee doctors, the awards evening will celebrate the very best of the RSM and its trainees. We will be awarding prizes to both oral and poster finalists.
The five oral finalists will present for 10 minutes, followed by a five minute Q&A session with the audience and judges who this year will include:

• Dr Fiona Moss, Dean, Royal Society of Medicine
• Professor Sir Simon Wessely, President, Royal Society of Medicine
• Dr Keith Ridge CBE, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, NHS England
• Professor Gillian Leng CBE, Deputy Chief Executive, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

Dr. Akhilesh Jha, a practising registrar in lung defence at Papworth Hospital, has been shortlisted as a finalist for his work on developing a new method that measures immune responses, as well as his research into the mechanisms underlying respiratory viral infections.

‘I have been a doctor for a decade and have chosen to specialise in respiratory and general internal medicine.
For the last three years, I have worked as a clinical research fellow undertaking a PhD at St Mary’s Hospital, Imperial College London.

My project, entitled ‘mimicking viral responses with a nasal tlr7/8 agonist induces enhanced mucosal interferon and chemokine responses in allergic asthmatics’, describes a new method to precisely measure immune responses in the inner lining of the nose to a substance that mimics aspects of a viral infection, such as influenza. This was done non-invasively using absorptive filter paper in the nose.

The study focused on participants with asthma and hay-fever and demonstrated that they have exaggerated immune responses in the nose. The research provides the basis for improving our understanding of the mechanisms underlying respiratory viral infections.

The study focused on participants with asthma and hay-fever and demonstrated that they have exaggerated immune responses in the nose. The research provides the basis for improving our understanding of the mechanisms underlying respiratory viral infections.

I’ve been fascinated by the “Man vs Microbes” battle ever since medical school. Humanity has always faced the scourge of respiratory infections that have the ability to cause death on an epic scale, such as pneumonic plague and Spanish flu.

Intensive scientific research on understanding how infections spread and cause disease has led to the development of preventative strategies, such as infection control measures and vaccines, as well as novel therapeutics to help combat respiratory infections.

While it has been relatively straightforward to investigate adaptive immune responses in peripheral tissue samples (such as blood), understanding mucosal innate immune responses (which occur in the first hours and days of infection) has been more challenging.

Researchers have relied on taking airway samples using sub-optimal techniques that can only be done once a day (such as inducing sputum production) or taking cells for ex vivo culture, which don’t fully recapitulate all components of the immune system.

Therefore, the ability to generate and measure mucosal innate immune responses in vivo with this degree of precision will help to improve our understanding of how respiratory infections cause disease.

My initial trial with two different substances to mimic a viral infection ended in failure as they generated no greater immune response then spraying salty water into volunteers’ noses! This did cause anxiety about how I would move forward with the study.

However, about a year into the research, I discovered a substance that was good at generating nasal mucosal immune responses. It made me appreciate the highs and lows that researchers experience in the pursuit of good science.

Winning a prize as a trainee is obviously an affirmation of the quality of your research. It gives you the confidence to continue pursuing your research goals.

In future applications for fellowships and committee positions, I think a prize from the Royal Society of Medicine will prove useful. While it recognises individuals, it is important to keep in mind the collaborative nature of science and I am grateful to all of my team involved in conceiving, establishing and performing this research.

Writing applications for prizes and grants can be challenging. The best advice a colleague gave me was to emphasise that the best scientists tend to be those that can distil and convey complex ideas in a comprehensible manner, leaving others interested and enthusiastic about your research.

As per the motto of a famous sports manufacturer – Just do it! Whether or not you are successful, it encourages deeper learning, provides valuable writing experience and can inspire you to pursue exciting science!

The RSM Wesleyan Trainee of the Year Award takes place at the RSM on Thursday 23 November and is free to attend. Find out more and book at www.rsm.ac.uk/wesleyan2017

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