ACF in Gastroenterology
Dr Nicole Cianci
PATHWAY TO AN ACF POSITION
I went into medicine looking for a varied, stimulating and challenging career where I could make a difference, pushing the boundaries of what is known and possible for the benefit of patients.
As an undergraduate at the University of Nottingham, I undertook a BMedSci in the area of Alzheimer’s Disease, which made me appreciate the importance of basic science in uncovering the pathophysiology of complex diseases. I then received a Wellcome Trust scholarship to investigate the immunosuppressive mechanisms of regulatory T cells, at the MRC Centre for Transplantation, King’s College London. This solidified my interest in research as I witnessed the powerful translational potential of basic science research with the ongoing Phase II clinical trial.
Later, in Nottingham, as an AFP unable to utilise any research time due to Covid, I used my initiative and creativity to develop research projects that were feasible in my personal time. I conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis on biomarkers for mortality in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). I also took part in the NIHR Associate PI Scheme and the local Recovery and Recovery RS trials. These experiences gave me crucial exposure to different types of research, and confirmed that clinical academia is the path that will satisfy my initial goals.
WHAT DOES THE WORK INVOLVE?
I entered my ACF in the second year of IMT (internal medicine training). The first year had been purely clinical, which gave me time to:
- complete my membership exams,
- ensure I had acquired all my clinical competencies for IMT, and
- explore the available research opportunities in gastroenterology and hepatology in Oxford.
As an ACF, I am undertaking a dedicated research block at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM) where I am applying the latest single-cell multiomics technologies to understand the role of immune cells, including CD4+ T cells in IBD.
I am also completing a Postgraduate Diploma in Health Research, an opportunity open to Oxford ACFs, and am a clinical medicine teacher for graduate-entry medical students at Magdalen College.
I can confidently say that being an ACF has only had advantages for me. It has granted me great academic training opportunities via the PGDip in Health Research and the OUCAGS forums, and access to world-class research groups at Oxford. It has been very enriching to be part of the OUCAGS network, a unique space to learn from research developments across fields of medicine.
I aim to develop a solid grounding in basic science research to understand the pathophysiology underpinning complex diseases in GI (gastrointestinal) and liver, with a view to translating novel findings into benefits to patients. I explored the academic training in different deaneries, and found that Oxford was best suited to meet my aspirations.
Oxford has been incredible so far. There is a bustling academic environment where any research is possible and clinical standards are very high, which ensures great clinical training. Clinical supervisors and training programme directors (TPDs) are incredibly supportive of academic trainees, and OUCAGS have set up an incredibly flexible and generous ACF programme in terms of academic opportunities. Oxford also happens to be a beautiful city that suits my lifestyle perfectly. I can cycle everywhere, immerse myself in nature, whilst having London and Heathrow at my doorstep.
My ACF post has confirmed my interest in research and given me increased confidence and tools to pursue a career that combines clinical medicine and academia. I plan to apply for a PhD fellowship, once I have completed another year of my clinical training, to build on my ACF project and continue research in the same field.