Charlie Lees awarded UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship
Dr Charlie Lees has been awarded a highly prestigious URKI-funded Future Leaders Fellowship, joining the Centre for Genomic and Experimental Medicine at the University of Edinburgh in November 2019
The fellowship will allow for the rapid expansion of Dr Lees’ research into the inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These conditions, which affect up to 1 in 100 people in the Western world, are highly heterogenous, chronic conditions that can produce severe symptoms and progressive damage to the bowel. Though the cause is currently unknown, through the increasing incidence in the global population, an association with modern lifestyles has been suggested. While treatment options exist for the conditions, remission rates are seen to hit a ceiling at 1 year of 30-40%. Management is further impacted by the current inability to predict disease progression or treatment response.
Charlie has spent the last 10 years working as a full-time consultant gastroenterologist in NHS Lothian and is a recognised world-expert in the management of IBD. He will now harness this clinical experience to investigate how disease flare, progression and treatment are affected by environmental, dietary, microbiome and genetic factors. This will allow for stratification of patients, with further investigation into interventions that can improve outcomes. The cross-disciplinary programme of research being undertaken will engage with clinicians, academics, patients, patient support organisations, data repositories and industry. Through partnerships with tech companies, the programme will harness digital technology to allow for large-scale collection of data, in real-time and at low-cost. Central to the research programme is the existing PREdiCCt study which aims to recruit 3100 people in remission from IBD (www.predicct.co.uk). Participants in the study will have their disease course monitored longitudinally, with data collected on diet, lifestyle and gut microbiome.
The Lothian IBD Registry (https://gut.bmj.com/content/early/2019/08/14/gutjnl-2019-318936.full) recently set up by Dr Lees and his team will be expanded across Scotland. Charlie will be working as part of the newly established HDR-UK IBD hub (https://www.hdruk.ac.uk/infrastructure/the-hubs/g-i-know/) to help ensure the rapid translation of these ideas and data assets into real improvements for people living with IBD.
The UKRI-funded Future leaders Fellowship programme was established in 2018 to help establish the careers of world-class research and innovation leaders across UK business and academia. These fellowships provide 7 years of personal and research support.
I am absolutely thrilled to have been awarded a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship. This will allow the rapid expansion of my programme of work looking to predict outcomes in Inflammatory Bowel Disease. It comes at an incredibly exciting time due to the convergence of clinical knowledge & massive biotech investment in IBD with rapid improvements in genomics, bioinformatics, digital health, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Whilst I will maintain full clinical care for all of my IBD patients in the Edinburgh IBD Unit, this fellowship will allow me to dedicate the rest of my time to answering a series of urgent research questions in IBD. I believe that this is the way I can best impact the lives of the many millions of people living with Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis across the world – today and tomorrow.