During her Master’s studies, Amy Parrish found her passion for research with a clinical aspect. Having come from London to Luxembourg to pursue her AFR PhD at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH) in the research group of Mahesh Desai, the American national studies the bacteria that inhabit our gut, to shed light on the development of diseases such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).
“I’ve always excelled and more importantly enjoyed science and mathematics”, Amy Parrish says. For her Masters studies at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, she had the chance to stay with a research unit from the Medical Research Council in the Gambia, an inspiring experience, which not only cemented her decision to pursue research, but also how she wanted to approach it:
“I was able to occasionally interact with patients who came into the onsite clinic – this is one of the reasons why I was adamant about sticking with research with a clinical aspect. Research allows you to truly delve into a problem, understand it, and find a way to solve it.”
Investigating links between diet and gut diseases
Amy, an American national, secured a PhD grant from the FNR’s AFR programme and set her sights on Luxembourg, where she is in the second year of her PhD in the Eco-Immunology and Microbiome, led by Dr Mahesh Desai. Amy studies the commensal bacteria that live in our gut – also known as the microbiota – more specifically with a focus on the bacteria within this community that have the power to degrade our colonic mucus layer (the ‘slime’ in our gut):
“The research that I am working on for my PhD is using a model to better understand two immune disorders that have become increasingly prevalent during the last decades: inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and food allergy.”
The model that Amy uses stems from work that the group has previously published, which showed that when our gut is deprived of dietary fibre, changes occur in the composition of the microbiota and the integrity of the mucus barrier, which combined make us more vulnerable to diseases that develop in the gut.
Amy is using this knowledge to shed light on how allergies and IBD develops – IBD affects an estimated 2.5–3 million people in Europe – with a special focus on how our dietary lifestyle is changing, taking into account that Western diets tend to be low in fibre.
“Incredible to be able to work on diseases that really affect millions of people worldwide”
“It was really important for me to be involved with clinical, medically relevant research. For my IBD study, we will soon begin recruiting a cohort of patients at the Centre Hospitalier de Luxembourg (CHL) with the help of the Gastroenterology department, in order to have access to human samples for the project.”
“We also work with groups in the UK and the US to acquire additional patient samples to make the project even more impactful. For me, it is incredible to be able to work on diseases that really affect millions of people worldwide.”
Ultimately, Amy hopes her research will help have a significant impact on the way we think about health, changing medicine for the better.
“All the components to truly excel”
As for how Amy ended up in Luxembourg, she explains that it was the project that drew her to the Grand Duchy, pointing out that Luxembourg’s research landscape is developing well considering its young age:
“Although research is relatively new to Luxembourg, I think it has all the components to truly excel as a research hub. It is very multilingual and international, which will inspire exceptional, high-impact research. It is exciting to be a part of it!”
Published 10 April 2018
You can read more about Amy on the Luxembourg Institute of Health website