Paul Bryce, PhD, assistant professor of allergy-immunology and microbiology-immunology, grew up in the small town of Gourock, Scotland, where his family ran a local grocery store. He studied at the University of Strathclyde in Glascow, where he earned an undergraduate honors degree in immunology and pharmacology. During his undergraduate summers, Bryce worked with Sir James Black, who won a Nobel Prize in 1988 for his pharmacology research and drug discovery. After spending a short time at a pharmaceutical company, Bryce obtained a PhD from the University of Manchester under the mentorship of Ian Hutchinson, PhD, DSc. He moved to the United States in 1999 to pursue post-doctoral work at Boston Children’s Hospital and became an instructor there in 2004. He came to Feinberg one year later.
Q: What brought you to Feinberg?
A: I knew I wanted to start my own research laboratory and pursue my research interests further, but I chose Feinberg over other offers for several reasons. One strong reason was seeing Bob Schleimer, a PhD qualified scientist, at the helm of the allergy-immunology division. This convinced me that Northwestern University was a progressive institution that recognized the important role research can play in medicine.
Another reason was the chance to attract high caliber PhD students through the Integrated Graduate Program and clinical fellows through our allergy-immunology fellowship program. I have been lucky to gather an outstanding team of young investigators from both tracks into my laboratory. I think it has created a dynamic environment where mechanism and medicine go hand in hand.
Q: What are your research interests?
A: My laboratory focuses on understanding why allergic responses occur and how our immune system is controlled during allergy. We have a focus specifically on food allergy, using both clinical studies and animal models, but we also explore airway and skin.
The food allergy work is driven by the simple, yet serious, concern from the medical standpoint: there are no good therapeutics available for affected individuals. The drugs used for asthma don’t seem to be particularly beneficial for food allergy. Most individuals rely on careful avoidance as their best option, which has obvious difficulties and impacts their quality of life tremendously.
We are just beginning to understand the mechanisms behind the differences between asthma and food allergy, and much of this stems from new animal models of food allergy, such as the one developed by Kirthana Ganeshan, a graduate student in my laboratory.
Anaphylaxis, the most serious reaction seen in food allergic individuals, accounts for more than 100,000 emergency room visits in the USA alone, and more than 150 deaths per year. The incidence and severity is also increasing. Our research allows us to explore ideas about why this might be occurring and helps us define ways we can develop new treatments.
Q: What types of collaborations are you engaged in across campus?
A: We have a wonderful collaboration with Nimi Gonsalves, MD, and her colleagues in the Division of Gastroenterology to study a relatively new allergic disease known as eosinophilic esophagitis. Nimi has been studying clinical interventions of these patients, including modulating the diet in those with food-induced responses. We have been able to integrate with her studies and explore some of the mechanisms behind this disease. On the more basic side of our work, Chia-Lin Hsu, a PhD student in my lab, has been working with Stephen Miller, PhD, and his group in the Department of Microbiology-Immunology to study a method of fooling the immune system that Steve and his team have shown to work on autoimmunity for its ability to restore tolerance to peanut. From Chia-Lin’s animal studies, we may have found a method to safely perform immunotherapy in peanut-allergic individuals, who, using current approaches available to clinicians, have a very high rate of adverse reactions to the treatment.
Q: What papers have you published and where?
A: 2010 turned out to be a rather surprising year for the lab, particularly on the paper front. A lot of the mechanistic questions we have in the lab are only now reaching their conclusions due to lots of hard work from my students and postdoc. The results should be published in 2011. However, while we have been getting these studies polished up, we have actually published a number of papers that are based on clinical studies, including one currently in press at the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. This was the work of Karen Hsu-Blatman, a clinical fellow in our program who has just moved to a faculty position at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and was part of our collaboration with Nimi Gonsalves and the Division of Gastroenterology. Another study was done by Toral Kamdar, who worked with us during her residency, but has now joined the allergy-immunology fellowship training program.
Q: Who inspires you?
A: My inspiration continues to lie with Sir James Black, who passed away last year. He was an incredible man to have met at the formative stage of my science career. On several occasions, he would call me into his office to “simply chat.” Looking back, it was during those now surreal meetings that I learned the importance of hard work, creative thought, and a love for discovery. I continue to be mentored almost daily by Bob Schleimer, albeit sometimes about my team picks in our fantasy football league! Having grown up in a different culture – even one that speaks English – has brought a number of unique problems relating to personal and professional interactions. Bob has been an amazing mentor in helping me grow and develop on these fronts, in addition to his scientific input and feedback.