Meet Dr. Caroline Appleyard

CBA
Caroline B. Appleyard, Ph.D.

Many of you have read my blog entry Stress Levels May Affect Endo, which can be found here. In that blog, I mention Dr. Caroline Appleyard, her colleagues, and their research.  Dr. Appleyard and Dr. Flores have agreed to answer some questions I’ve posed to them.  The answers will trickle in as time allows, and rather wait for the entire Q&A session (which could be several weeks or months), I’ve decided to post what I receive, as I receive it. Here goes:

Q&A Session with Dr. Caroline Appleyard

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Throughout my undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate education in Britain, Canada and the United States there was one common denominator – a lack of female role models. I have never been taught by a woman but this never stopped me from pursuing a career in science.

When I was in school I read a lot and wanted to know how things ‘worked’. I loved to make projects and design things and really enjoyed doing ‘hands-on’ type activities.  I loved all my science classes at school and wanted to become an astronaut but unfortunately I had very bad eye-sight.  My mother was a nurse but although I was interested in how our bodies work and what happens when things go wrong I wasn’t interested in becoming a physician.  Since I loved both biology and chemistry I decided to study Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Edinburgh and that’s when I first became involved in laboratory research.  I carried out my undergraduate research project in the National Blood Blank in Edinburgh, Scotland studying purification of a coagulation factor. With this experience I wanted to understand more about how inflammation causes diseases so undertook my graduate studies at the University of Southampton in England where I carried out my experiments in tissues from patients with inflammation of the digestive tract (colitis). I received a Wellcome Trust Travel Award to train as a post-doctoral fellow in the Gastrointestinal Research Group at the University of Calgary, and followed this with a second post-doctoral fellowship at the University of South Dakota.

I moved to Puerto Rico in 1998 to set up my Gastrointestinal Research Laboratory at Ponce School of Medicine and Health Sciences in the southern part of the island. My laboratory is interested in the pathophysiological basis and consequences of inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract. We want to answer questions such as why inflammation can turn into cancer, how stress can affect the intestines, and how do the bacteria in the intestinal tract affect its function?  We have several projects underway to try to elucidate the factors contributing to Inflammatory Bowel Disease, colitis-associated colorectal cancer, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and intestinal endometriosis. These chronic gastrointestinal disorders are characterized by abdominal pain, inflammation and alterations of bowel motility.  Our laboratory uses a variety of different experimental techniques, at the whole organ, cellular and molecular level.

At my minority–serving institution I am responsible for overseeing professional development workshops, research seminars, laboratory training experiences, mentoring teams and program evaluation, as Program Director for a federally sponsored graduate training program and the Co-Leader of the Training/Career Development Core for our Cancer Center Partnership with the Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida. I have personally trained and mentored over 80 students (undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral) in my laboratory. I have a great deal of interest in helping the next generation of scientists develop, and hope to offer a positive female role model, so that all students interested in science can fulfill their potential. As a long-time member of the American Physiological Society (Women in Physiology Committee 2010-2013) and the current President of the Puerto Rico Physiological Society, I have helped organize several outreach activities at the high school level.

I feel that my unique experience and viewpoints, having been exposed to different cultures, gives me a strong understanding of the ‘obstacles’ that women and minorities still face in science. I have also dealt with the challenges of balancing a young family with work and hobbies (my own favorites are scuba-diving, running and skiing), and I look forward to offering what advice I can to others.

Do you have Endometriosis?

No.

If not, what got you interested in studying Endometriosis?

My background is in inflammation of the intestinal tract which I have been studying since I was in graduate school, specifically focused towards Inflammatory Bowel Disease (or colitis).  When I started working at Ponce School of Medicine (officially now called Ponce Health Sciences University) through informal discussions with one of my colleagues, Dr. Idhaliz Flores, we began to recognize that there appeared to be many similarities in the immunopathology between colitis and endometriosis.

This led to us proposing a project studying the similarities and differences in the involvement of an inflammatory mediator and its receptor (tumor necrosis factor alpha) in the two conditions. We used molecular profiling to validate the use of our models in an effort to identify novel therapeutic and diagnostic targets. Around the same time I was becoming increasingly interested in the area of neurogastroenterology, since stress is known to impact the pathophysiology of colitis, and my laboratory had some ongoing projects looking at the effects of stress on inflammation in colitis and irritable bowel syndrome. We were also fortunate to have some colleagues working in my department who are neuroscientists by training. A natural extension of this was then to extend these studies into endometriosis.

What has been very enlightening for me during these past years is how many women, and younger girls, suffer from this condition, many without knowing about it for several years.  My hope is that raising awareness of the impact of stress on chronic pain conditions such as endometriosis, highlights the potential for the use of complementary therapies working alongside standard medicines to help empower the patients.

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I want to thank Dr. Appleyard for taking the time to answer these questions, and look forward to receiving more in the future (and sharing them with you!).  And keep up the great work!!

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