What are your research interests?
- Respiratory and Intestinal diseases (cystic fibrosis, asthma, lung cancer, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
- The role of stem cells in tissue regeneration during respiratory or intestinal diseases
- Developing screening tests for translational medicine using human adult stem cell technology
Why did you get into research?
The main reason I chose a medical research career was a desire to discover and develop new treatments for complex diseases to improve the quality of life for patients, in particular those with chronic disease.
What would be the ultimate goal for your research?
The ultimate goal of any stem cell research is to be able to regenerate organs damaged by chronic disease to save lives and prevent the need for organ transplantation. This will require a confluence of technologies including 3-dimensional stem cell growth, bioengineering, genomic editing, and artificial intelligence. This is a long term goal but I believe with an increased amount of investment could be achieved. In the shorter term we aim to apply adult stem cell technologies to develop new drugs for lung and intestinal diseases, and design clinical tests to personalise therapy so we get the right patient onto the right drug sooner.
The healthcare system is continually evolving, with more of a focus on precision medicine and targeted treatments for patients. Increasingly, stem cell technology will be used to improve precision medicine through personalised tests which can match the right patient with the most optimal treatment. This treatment can save time, and reduce healthcare costs, while limiting the chances of a patient being prescribed a sub-optimal therapy.
My group is a little atypical in that we are not focused on just one disease, rather my research is focused on adult stem cells of the lung and intestine; how they function in tissue repair and how they can be used as drug discovery tools or in personalized medicine in the clinic. We look at using them as systems to study different diseases; cystic fibrosis, asthma, lung cancer, and Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and also using them as a platform to develop translational tests. We’re taking the stem cells from a patient and using them to enable us to screen patients before they receive treatment. We can grow them up as ‘mini-lungs’ or ‘mini-guts’ in a dish, which we can then use to test various pre-existing drugs, or use these high throughput systems to identify new drugs.
I did my PhD at HMRI back in 2011. After I graduated I moved overseas for 6 years and worked in the US and the UK. However, I came back to Australia in early 2018 to HMRI because the respiratory centre here is one of the leaders in the world.
Dr Gerard Kaiko is an NHMRC Career Development Fellow in the School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy at the University of Newcastle. His PhD studies in respiratory disease and immunology explored the role of the innate immune system in regulating the interaction between viral infections and asthma. Upon being awarded his doctorate, Dr Kaiko worked in London at the National Institute of Medical Research (MRC) – with a focus on immunology. He became an NHMRC Early Career Fellow and then moved to the USA to Washington University in St Louis, one of the top medical research centres in the world. It was here that Dr Kaiko moved to the study of adult stem cells, and the microbiome in gastrointestinal disease.
In the US, Dr Kaiko was a senior member of a team working on a novel 3D technology to generate adult stem cells from all areas of the gastrointestinal and respiratory systems. These stem cells are cultured and can be developed into ‘organ-like’ tissues to conduct an unlimited array of tests: including drug discovery, diagnostic tests for personalised medicine, toxicology screening and more.
My group is developing technology and tools so that we can take a biopsy from a patient, and, using their stem cells, grow a sample to test a patient’s response to various drugs to help with clinician decision making. There are many diseases this technology could apply to but at the moment our work is concentrated on developing these tests in cystic fibrosis.
This work may also help repurpose pre-existing drugs for rare diseases that are already approved for use in other more common diseases. With rare diseases, it’s hard to get funding for clinical trials, so this is a real option to identify new treatments. It’s all about matching the right patient to the right drug.
I’m always seeking out collaborations for research, locally and internationally. It’s not just in the medical field, we actively collaborate with engineers and computer data scientists.
- Regenerative medicine (including stem cells and tissue engineering)
- Respiratory diseases
- Gastrointestinal diseases
- Intestinal microbiome
ABC Newcastle interview with Kia Handley - 28 May 2019