Early-career researchers Hangout On Air with eLife

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Recently, we spoke to three early-career researchers in the second of our Hangout on Air events.

Stephen Baker (Wellcome Trust Major Overseas Programme, Oxford University Clinical Research Unit), Curtis Huttenhower (Department of Biostatistics, Harvard School of Public Health) and Rajat Rohatgi (Division of Oncology, Stanford School of Medicine) joined us from Vietnam, Michigan and California. The discussion was moderated by Dr Chris Smith, managing editor and founder of the Naked Scientists.

Stephen is now the head of the enteric infections research group at the Wellcome-Trust major overseas programme based in Vietnam. Chris began the discussion by asking Stephen about the motivations behind his move . Stephen told us “I was working in the UK and was interested in gastrointestinal infections, particularly typhoid fever.” He said that moving to Vietnam provided “an opportunity to study in a place where Typhoid fever was actually a problem”. Since making the move, Stephen has developed his own research interests. “We’re now developing a fairly substantial group studying a range of different gastrointestinal pathogens, including bacteria, viruses and more recently, parasites.”

The discussion then moved onto the issue of antibiotic resistance, with Stephen telling us that “drug resistance is a huge problem in developing countries”. He continued; “if I’m being brutally honest, without wanting to sound overly melodramatic, I think that the issue with drug resistance here is probably an order of magnitude greater than what we are seeing in the UK, the US and Europe.”

Stephen explained that, in Vietnam, “antimicrobials are available at a range of different facilities, including; clinicians, in some shops, pharmacies”. He continued by explaining that you don’t need a prescription to get access to antibiotics, and that these drugs are not regulated in farming or in the production of vegetables or fruit. Stephen continued by saying that this meant that “the amount of antimicrobials that people are exposed to, not just in Vietnam but in other parts of Southeast Asia is probably greater than everywhere else.”

Curtis’ lab at Harvard School of Public Health is “trying to understand microbial community function using computational techniques and is also conducting a handful of applied studies, using computational techniques in the human microbiome.” Curtis told us that their work mainly focuses on “autoimmune and inflammatory conditions like Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and the inflammatory bowel diseases.”

He described the possible long-term impacts of his work; “one of the reasons that I’m particularly excited about the area is that the gut microbiome in particular is easily accessible as a diagnostic readout. It’s fairly easy to provide a stool sample and use that as a high-throughput readout of the gut microbiome status. So, there’s a lot of interest in developing diagnostic or prognostics based on the microbial status in the gut. Over the longer term it’s interesting as the gut microbiome is, in principle, modifiable.”

Rajat is an oncologist at Stanford, and explained that his lab is interested in “developmental pathways that are co-opted by tumour cells.”

He continued; “ one of our major focuses over the last two years has been on the hedgehog signal transduction cascade. Hedgehog is one of the 5 or 6 pillars of development in all animals. It controls the development of almost all tissues and it’s hard to find a structure that isn’t regulated by hedgehog signalling.” Rajat said that “It’s also become clear that hedgehog plays an important role in many human diseases.”

We’d like to thank all of the participants in this eLife Hangout On Air for such thought-provoking discussion.

We also look forward to hosting another Hangout On Air with the next round of early-career researchers sponsored by eLife to present their work at either the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society, or the Wellcome Trust. Details on these individuals, their work, and eLife’s efforts to back the success of junior investigators are available at;


For news on the next #eLifeHOA and eLife-sponsored presentation series, add us on Google+, follow us on Twitter or sign up for eLife news.