Staff profile: Nicholas Powell, Clinical Reader in Gastroenterology

Dr Nick Powell recently joined MDR as a Clinical Reader in Gastroenterology with a particular interest in intestinal inflammation. We caught up with him to find out about his background and research. 

Introduce yourself – who are you and what do you do?

I’m a clinical academic gastroenterologist with a research and clinical interest in patients with intestinal inflammation. For the main part, this involves looking after and studying patients with inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Increasingly, I look after many patients with gut inflammation caused by cancer immunotherapies. As well as IBD clinics at Imperial, I now do a weekly clinic at the Royal Marsden dedicated to seeing cancer patients who develop colitis following treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors.

My research team are interested in decoding the molecular and cellular drivers of inflammation. Our goal is to develop new treatment strategies and improve the performance of existing therapies using precision medicine approaches.

Where were you working or studying before you joined MDR?

I was a King’s College London and Guy’s & St Thomas’ for 10 years before arriving at Imperial in 2019.

What first inspired your interest in gastroenterology?

I am fascinated by inflammation and the immune system. Gastroenterologists are fortunate enough to look after patients with IBD, which was a perfect way for me to continue to treat and study these fascinating disorders.

What is the most interesting piece of research you are currently working on?

We are developing new models of immune checkpoint inhibitor induced colitis and are using these models to understand the cross-talk between our intestinal microbes (which we know shape our susceptibility to these diseases) and our mucosal immune system. In particular, we believe that microbially-derived metabolites are the language of this dialogue, and we are now zooming in to decode this metabolic language, and in the future, we plan to harness this knowledge to allow us to directly control mucosal immune cells through administration of selective metabolites.

What has been the proudest achievement of your career so far?

Winning fellowships from the Wellcome Trust (clinical research training fellowships and intermediate clinical research fellowships) have been professional highlights. Also, I am proud to have recently chaired the first British Society of Gastroenterology’s guidance on the management of checkpoint-inhibitor induced colitis, which I think will offer much needed support to clinicians managing this new clinical problem.

What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your work?

Juggling clinical and academic work. It is always a challenge to make sure I can deliver excellent clinical care for patients, and at the same time deliver internationally competitive research. Doing patient-centred research helps to bridge the gap!

What do you consider to be the key challenges in healthcare and medicine that we need to overcome in the next 20 years?

The continuing emergence of big data (clinical and omics type data), together with the challenge of integrating these datasets to further both our research ambitions, but also to improve clinical care are major hurdles to navigate. Hopefully, closer interaction and collaboration between clinicians, scientists, computational biologists, and artificial intelligence will help us resolve these challenges!

What is the best piece of advice you would give to students and early career researchers who aspire to have a successful career in research and/or academia?

Learn to roll with rejection (it happens a lot in academia; from Journals and grant-awarding bodies!). Learn from the feedback, dust yourself off, get back on the horse and get ready to go again (if that’s not too many mixed metaphors!). Find a good mentor to give you honest and impartial advice.

And finally, if you could time travel, when/where would you go?

Rotterdam, May 26th, 1982 (to see Aston Villa win the European cup)!

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