Dr Yanushi Dullewe Wijeyeratne, clinical research fellow at St George's, University of London and cardiology specialty registrar at St George's Hospital
Dr Yanushi Dullewe Wijeyeratne.
Dr Yanushi Dullewe Wijeyeratne was awarded an academic clinical fellowship (ACF) in cardiology at St George’s, University of London in 2012. She commenced a clinical research fellowship at St George’s in 2015 and is currently completing her PhD in cardiac genetics and stem cell models of heart disease. She is also a cardiology specialty registrar at St George’s Hospital.
Why did you apply for an academic clinical fellowship at St George’s?
Following my initial exposure to clinical research in medical school, I was eager to continue further clinical academic training. Early in my clinical training I developed an interest in academic cardiology. The cardiology ACF at St George’s provided not only the opportunity to train in cardiology at a tertiary cardiac centre, but to also embark on an exciting area of research in cardiac genetics and inherited heart disease with Professor Elijah Behr and the world-renowned inherited cardiac conditions research group at St George’s. The presence of the hospital and university on the same site was particularly attractive, enabling me to engage in a number of research studies in harmony with my clinical training.
What experience did you have before applying for an ACF?
I developed my interest in research during my pre-clinical training at the University of Nottingham, where I delved into basic science research, investigating the presence of a novel receptor in platelets. Through this study, I learnt fundamental basic science research methodology, presented my findings to the wider scientific community, and published my first scientific manuscript as joint first author in 2008. I continued to maintain an active involvement in research during clinical years at medical school, during which time my research took a greater clinical focus. Through the thrombosis and haemostasis research group at the University of Nottingham and the mentorship of Professor Stan Heptinstall, I designed and conducted clinical research studies on antiplatelet drugs used in the treatment of acute coronary syndromes. I found combining research with my clinical training particularly stimulating, and enjoyed the differences in the pace of work between frontline clinical medicine and research. I did the academic foundation programme, which reinforced my previous experience in clinical research while giving me the opportunity to develop additional skills.
What did you do during your ACF at St George’s?
During my ACF, I got the opportunity to contribute to a number of clinical research studies, as well as designing new research studies. Meanwhile I was also able to further explore translational research and learn new skills in stem cell research, which eventually led to the study that I am now undertaking for my PhD. Having commenced my ACF as an ST1, I completed my core medical training in the first 18 months of the fellowship before commencing cardiology training at St George’s Hospital in 2014.
Having completed the fellowship, what did you do next?
Following my ACF, I started a clinical research fellowship at St George’s and I am currently completing a PhD on cardiac genetics and using in vitro stem cell models to investigate inherited arrhythmia syndromes. My work is focussed on the study of common genetic variation that influence phenotype. The study involves collaborations with multiple international centres of excellence in Europe, USA and Asia. I have also had the opportunity to carry out unique practical aspects of my work in other centres in Northern Ireland and the Netherlands. In addition to genetic studies, I study patient phenotype in the lab using stem cell models of heart disease in collaboration with the University of Nottingham and Queen Mary University of London. I am now able to reprogram patient fibroblasts from skin biopsies into induced pluripotent stem cells, and to differentiate these cells into cardiomyocytes that carry the same genotype as the patients from whom the original skin sample was obtained. This enables me to study patient-specific disease in the lab without subjecting the patient to a cardiac biopsy.
How would you describe your overall experience at St George’s?
I would highly recommend it! The ACF and subsequent clinical research fellowship at St George’s have provided me with unique opportunities to embark on novel and exciting areas of research. I have been able to build on research skills I had developed previously, foster collaborations with international centres of excellence, and have received the training, mentorship and resources to develop a wide variety of new skills ranging from the use of informatics and programming to analyse genetic variation in patient cohorts, to lab skills in reprogramming somatic cells to induced pluripotent stem cells, making stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes, through to studying the electrophysiological characteristics of these cells to investigate the pathophysiology of patient phenotype in vitro.
What would your advice be for anyone considering applying for an ACF at St George’s?
Each ACF is unique, therefore it is crucial to effectively use the protected research time during the fellowship to explore different areas of interest and to gain exposure to various aspects of research and different methodologies, before pursuing an area that fits your aptitude and passion. Having the hospital in the same site as the university provides an optimal environment to pursue clinical academic training. My time at St George’s has been, and continues to be, an exciting, challenging and fulfilling experience.