Meet Laureate Professor Nick Talley, HMRI's 2020 Researcher of the Year. We sat down with Nick to discuss why a career as a gastroenterologist.
When the time came to pick a specialty during his medical training Nick was certain of one thing, he was not going to become a gastroenterologist. It wasn’t a lack of interest in the field that turned him off, it was the fact his father, also named Nicholas Talley, was a gastroenterologist too, a recipe for extreme confusion.
“I remember attending the Digestive Diseases Week in the United States, the big gastrointestinal conference, and I found that my room had been taken by my father and they had cancelled my talk!” Nick said. “They thought there couldn’t possibly be two Dr Nicholas Talley’s here talking about gut health.”
Nick called it serendipity that he ended up in the field, and he may have become a neurologist if an offer from the Royal North Shore Hospital to take part in gut research had not arrived so early in his training. Nick spent his early years researching gut microorganisms and says the highlight of his career so far is the discovery that a large subgroup of patients with functional dyspepsia, previously thought to have no structural cause, do in fact share similar pathology.
“We found these sufferers of functional dyspepsia share micro-inflammation in the small intestine,” Nick said. “This has transformed that field and led to potential treatment pathways. It’s a very exciting place to be in. We still have a long way to go to establish whether reversing the inflammatory process will reverse the disease, but we are pretty confident that will be the case.” These world-class studies into functional dyspepsia were conducted through HMRI, the University of Newcastle and Hunter New England Health and the upcoming work on potential treatments will be done here as well.
His research into the gut has started to loop back around to his early interests in neurology as the role of the gut in influencing the brain and nervous system has become a major part of Nick’s work. “We are very interested in the gut-brain connection and the gut-nervous system connection through pathways such as inflammation and the gut microbiome,” Nick said. Through his work at the Centre for Research Excellence in Gut Health and grants through the National Health and Medical Research Council Nick and his team are focusing on how the gut affects other parts of the body and how disparate diseases may have an origin in the health of our digestive systems. “We are still learning, but what we do know is that people with many types of gut diseases have increased incidence of things like anxiety, depression and also sleep disorders seem intimately linked.” “There is evidence for example that Parkinson’s disease may be linked to gut health and we are just starting to work out and understand those linkages.
Nick says it’s a very exciting time to be a researcher in this area as some of these ideas about gut-affected diseases have enormous potential for treatments. “These links between the gut and neurological conditions have tremendous implications because, relatively speaking, the gut is easy to manipulate in a way that the brain is not.” “Identifying the microbial causes of chronic diseases and then treating them, either in the gut or elsewhere in the body, is going to be a big field of study for decades.” In December, Professor Talley was also awarded the prestigious Mayo Clinic Distinguished Alumni Award, presented to acknowledge and show appreciation for the exceptional contributions of Mayo alumni to the field of medicine.
Eating a healthy and balanced diet: The best way to establish and then keep a healthy microbial population
2. Regular exercise: Has positive effects on your gut health which may have knock-on effects for the rest of your body
3. Don’t smoke: Smoking does terrible things to your gut causing significant changes to the microbial population
4. Avoid unnecessary medications: Unless recommended by your doctor, as these can often have negative effects on your gut microbes
5. Sleep: A new area of research we’re still learning about, but getting a good night’s sleep is probably going to promote a healthy gut, healthy mind and healthy body