Thanks to generous support provided by the Chris M. Carlos and Catherine Nicole Jockisch Carlos Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC) Endowment, Mayo Clinic’s PSC research team added a new, named fellowship, which is annually awarded to a deserving young physician or scientist. The first Carlos PSC Research Program fellow to receive funding to perform PSC research at Mayo Clinic: Dr. Angela Cheung.
Originally from Canada, Dr. Cheung began her medical training in Edmonton, before moving to Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. She completed her gastroenterology training at the University of Toronto, where she had the opportunity to work with and be mentored by a renowned hepatologist, Dr. Jenny Heathcote.
While Dr. Cheung found clinical practice rewarding, working with patients suffering from immune-mediated liver disease inspired her to become a clinician investigator. In particular, she sought to investigate the causes of PSC, which lacks approved medical therapy. This desire led Dr. Cheung to Mayo Clinic and its culture of scientific collaboration, which she says is critical to making a difference in PSC research.
“Not only does Mayo Clinic have three preeminent researchers in PSC, but it also has experts in epigenetics, microbiome, systems biology and research design that are key elements to develop and execute the relevant studies,” Dr. Cheung said. “The combination of this collaborative research environment, well-established research resources and technologies, as well as external collaborators generated through Mayo Clinic’s network of experts is critical to advancing research in this rare disease.”
Dr. Cheung believes it is an exciting time for PSC research. “We have available several high-throughput technologies and it’s really the right time to begin addressing important biological disease questions leveraging the strong participation of patients in our studies. These technologies have already empowered us to look at innovative aspects of PSC development as well as risk factors and will hopefully revolutionize our understanding of the disease and bring effective therapies forward.”
Most of her research as the Carlos PSC Research Program fellow has focused on epigenetic and exposomic-metabolomic research in collaboration with Dr. Konstantinos Lazaridis. Dr. Cheung hopes that her research will help pave a path forward not only to improve our understanding of PSC, but will also provide a foundation for the collaborative Carlos PSC Research Program as it continues to push the envelope in the years to come.
“The benefit of working on a project and being the first group to do it is that the sky is the limit” Dr. Cheung said. “The Carlos PSC Research Program also allows great continuity in terms of research, which means that my experience and the results of the research I started can be used to inform the research of the next fellow.”
Indeed, the support provided by the Carlos PSC Research Program has allowed Dr. Cheung and now the new Carlos PSC Research Program fellow, Dr. Sohan Lal, to examine a new, never-explored area of research in PSC: cell-free DNA. Cell-free DNA is released in the bloodstream by dying cells of an organ either naturally or through disease/injury, and could be used as a biomarker of disease progression. “I trust that combining epigenetics with cell-free DNA approaches will one day improve the care of patients with PSC,” Dr. Cheung said.
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