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Hosted by the Rhodes Biomedical Association

Fiona Powrie is the Director of the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, University of Oxford. She is interested in the intestinal immune system’s ability to distinguish foreign microbes from the trillions of harmless bacteria that reside in our gut –and how this delicate balancing act breaks down in inflammatory bowel disease. Her work has identified suppressor ‘regulatory T cells’ that are crucial for gut homeostasis, as well as immune signals pivotal for chronic intestinal inflammation. She received the Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine in 2012 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2011.

Professor Powrie spoke to us about the diverse and rapidly expanding research on the gut microbiome, the large population of bacteria resident in the human intestine. Bacteria first colonize the gut upon birth, as the newborn exits the birth canal. These bacterial populations develop as the child does; different species come in due to environmental exposure, and proportions of the species change over time. The bacteria interact significantly with the immune system of the gut through direct interactions with immune cells and antibodies as well as by releasing signaling molecules. Aberrations in these interactions are known to be involved in inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn’s disease, as well as certain cancers. As our understanding of the gut microbiome expands, more interactions and influences are bound to be uncovered, and these bacterial populations are poised to become critical targets for novel medical interventions.

As a woman in science, Professor Powrie experienced unique difficulties at different stages of her career. She often found herself outnumbered by men, and this dynamic affected her decisions at every level of scientific work and leadership. Her example of scientific excellence and pioneering influence is a powerful one and we were very honored to host her talk.

Written by the Rhodes Biomedical Group

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