In Conversation with Dr Paul Collini
Dr Paul Collini is a Medical Research Council Clinical Training Fellow, based at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. He is currently working on a major trial looking at lung infection in HIV patients through pneumococcal disease. Here, he talks about his background, his research, his aims for the future and his tips for other young researchers.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I qualified from Edinburgh University Medical School in 1998, and did my general medical training at St George’s Hospital in London. I became interested in infectious diseases while I was there.
How did you become interested in research?
My consultant encouraged me to get some hand-on experience in Africa, and so I decided to go and work in a tuberculosis clinic in Ghana, moving there in 2003. I set up and ran an HIV clinic while also a clinical lecturer at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.
I needed to know how well the clinic was working, and so I started doing some research in the form of a service evaluation, looking at HIV results in patients at the clinic. It showed that most patients were showing a significant improvement and that the clinic was working. I got these results published in a journal, and it was onwards and upwards from there.
What does your present role involve?
I’m a clinical training fellow for the MRC, studying the immune response to pneumococcal infection in HIV. I’m now half way through a three-year contract, which finished in August 2013. On the clinical side I do one HIV clinic a week.
Tell us about your current research.
Patients with HIV generally become much less susceptible to infections when they are started on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. However, they still tend to catch pneumococcal disease (including pneumonia) often. My research is looking into why this is the case. The issue is crucial as pneumonia and the other diseases caused by pneumococci are taking a terrible toll on people with HIV/AIDS, especially in the developing world.
I’m looking specifically at a cell called the macrophage, which attaches itself to pneumococci that enter the body and tries to kill them. For some reason HIV prevents this cell from working, leading to more pneumococcal infections. I’m taking cells from healthy volunteers and from HIV patients to find out what HIV is doing to the cells, and to see if it can be prevented.
What do you hope will be the effects of your study?
I hope it will inform future research and broaden our knowledge of HIV and pneumococcal disease.
Ultimately, we may be able to develop a treatment that helps HIV patients and others who are at risk of pneumococcal disease.
How do you intend to take this research further?
There’s a possibility to broaden the research out further once this study is complete. For example, the study could shed light on tuberculosis, and so I could look at the role of microphages in this. Beyond that, there is potentially a whole stream of research that will need to be undertaken into the use of medicines to potentially prevent and treat pneumococcal disease in HIV patients and others at risks. However I’m focussing on my present study for now and will make further decisions when I have the full results.
What advice would you give to other young researchers?
Just jump in and get on with it. You can’t tell if an opportunity is the right one, but follow your instincts. If something seems interesting to you, pursue it!