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Profile of Nicola Jones

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Dr. Nicola Jones

Dr. Nicola Jones, MD, PhD, FRCP(C)

  • Senior Scientist, Cell Biology
  • Staff Gastroenterologist, Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition
  • Professor, Department of Paediatrics, University of Toronto

1. Where are you from?/Where did you study?
I was born in Cardiff, South Wales and we moved to Cobourg, Ontario when I was a toddler. I did a couple of years of an undergrad in life sciences at Queen’s University and then I got into medical school at the University of Toronto. I did my paediatrics training and my paediatric gastroenterology fellowship at SickKids and then my PhD through the Molecular Medical Genetics Department at U of T.

2. What are you researching right now?
Our research interest is on how enteric pathogens interact with host cells to cause disease such as gastric cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. The main focus of my research is a bacterium called Helicobactor pylori. It is a very common infection worldwide and it infects about half of the world’s human population. A small percentage of infected people will develop peptic ulcer disease or gastric cancers. We are studying how these bacteria cause chronic infection. H. pylori infects the stomach causing inflammation but you don’t get rid of the bacteria. You get infected when you’re a child and it basically stays with you for your whole life. That means that these bacteria have mechanisms to hide from the host response and stay in the stomach. We are investigating those mechanisms because we think that they may promote disease such as cancer.

We are also looking at how individuals develop inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The current thinking is that people develop IBD because they have an inappropriate response to the enteric bacteria that are normally present in the intestine. We are currently trying to sort out what that inappropriate response is.

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
I think my all time favourite scientist is Leonardo da Vinci. He really epitomizes a renaissance person and I really admire his artistic abilities and how he integrated art and science.
My favourite contemporary scientist is Dana Philpott from U of T. She is a female scientist who is internationally renowned for studying innate immunity. I really value her as a scientist because she is very smart and she’s a wonderful individual who people love to work with. She is also a really good role model for young people in science today. I did my PhD with her and it was a great experience.

4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
I am probably a bit biased based on my research but I think that the development of the germ theory and the discovery that microorganisms can cause disease is very important. That is a major discovery that has really had an impact on the health of individuals and because I research microorganisms it is something that is directly related to my work.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I would say that my major interest is my family: my husband and my two kids. I have a boy and a girl and they are seven and nine. They like to do lots of outdoor activities. In the winter we’re on rinks either indoors outdoors or on the road playing hockey and in the summer time they love swimming and biking.

6. Why science?
I probably came across research in a little bit of a different way than other clinician-scientists. I didn’t really think I was going to do research when I was doing my medical training but I didn’t really know much about research. As part of our fellowship in gastroenterology at SickKids we had to do two years of research and so I got into research because it was mandatory. However, I had an amazing mentor, Dr. Phil Sherman and the lab environment was great and I just got really turned on to it. I saw that by studying disease mechanisms I could hopefully have more of an impact on patient care as a physician. Research was and is constantly stimulating.

7. Why SickKids?
SickKids is a great place! Honestly, I think it’s the people SickKids that make it so great. As a clinician I get to work with amazing patients and families and the clinical team is phenomenal at all levels. The research environment is collaborative and I think the link between the clinicians and the scientists here is fantastic. The trainees here are amazing, from the summer students to the grad students, to the post-docs to the MD fellows. It is a really fantastic environment and I think its very supportive of advancing knowledge. SickKids also has a lot of really good resources as does the whole U of T community. I don’t think there is really a better place to be than SickKids for paediatric care and research.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
We actually have more bacteria in our bodies than we do human cells. So we are really more bacteria than human. Some people actually say that we are sort of like condominiums for bacteria. We have a really unique relationship with the microorganisms that we have. They are very beneficial but they can also cause disease. I think an area of great interest is trying to figure out what are the beneficial things that we can harness in the bacteria to promote health and on the other hand how can we prevent the disease that these same microorganisms can cause in different individuals. That is a really exciting area in our field.

9. If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering a research career, what would it be?
I think mentorship is really important. A mentor who is very supportive of you can help guide you. You also need a lot of perseverance. It really is true – most of what we do in research doesn’t turn out the way we think. Having the right mentor and being in the right supportive environment is really important. It is so stimulating and rewarding to be involved in research and try to make a difference. It is so worth it to have that perseverance!

June 2010

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