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Dr Yanushi Dullewe Wijeyeratne, BMBS, BMedSci (Hons), MRCP(UK), PhD

NIHR Clinical Lecturer at St George's, University of London Cardiology Specialty Registrar and Fellow in Cardiac Electrophysiology and Implantable Cardiac Devices at St George's Hospital, London

Yanushi 2 Dr Yanushi Dullewe Wijeyeratne.

 

In 2022, Dr Yanushi Dullewe Wijeyeratne was awarded the highly competitive NIHR Clinical Lectureship in Cardiology at St George’s, University of London. Dr Wijeyeratne is a former NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow (ACF) at St George’s. Following her ACF, she was awarded a Clinical Research Fellowship at St George’s, during which she completed a PhD in cardiac genetics and stem cell models of inherited cardiac conditions. She is a Cardiology Specialty Registrar and Fellow in Cardiac Electrophysiology and Implantable Cardiac Devices at St George’s Hospital.

 

What attracted you towards the NIHR Clinical Lectureship in Cardiology at St George’s?

Following my general Cardiology training at St George’s Hospital, in 2020 I started my Cardiology subspecialty training in Cardiac Electrophysiology and Implantable Cardiac Devices at King’s College Hospital, London. Having completed my PhD in inherited cardiac arrhythmias at St George’s, University of London, I was keen to continue my subspecialisation as an Academic Cardiac Electrophysiologist. The St George’s NIHR Clinical Lectureship gives me the ideal opportunity to pursue both my clinical and research interests. I specialise in Cardiac Electrophysiology (which involves carrying out ablation procedures to treat patients with cardiac arrhythmias) and implanting cardiac devices such as pacemakers and defibrillators to patients with heart rhythm abnormalities, whilst my research is focussed on cardiac genetics and risk stratification in inherited cardiac arrhythmias.

You were initially awarded the St George’s Academic Clinical Fellowship in 2012. How did this facilitate your development as a young clinical academic?

The Cardiology ACF at St George’s enabled me to not only train in Cardiology at St George’s Hospital, one of the largest tertiary cardiac centres in UK, 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 advantageous, as it enabled me to engage in several research studies in harmony with my clinical training. 

What experience did you have before being awarded the 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 completed the academic foundation programme, which reinforced my previous experience in clinical research, whilst giving me the opportunity to develop additional skills in clinical academia.

Can you describe your ACF and Clinical Research Fellowship?

During my ACF in Cardiology at St George’s, I got the opportunity to contribute to 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 embarked on for my PhD. Having commenced my ACF as an ST1, I completed my core medical training in the first eighteen months of the fellowship before commencing Cardiology training at St George’s Hospital in 2014.

Following my ACF, I was awarded a Clinical Research Fellowship at St George’s to embark on my PhD. My PhD was focussed on cardiac genetics and I developed in vitro stem cell models to investigate inherited arrhythmia syndromes, namely Brugada Syndrome and Long QT Syndrome. I investigated common genetic variation that influence phenotype in pedigrees carrying the SCN5A-E1784K mutation. This is the most prevalent genetic mutation worldwide that causes Long QT and Brugada overlap syndrome. During my PhD, I studied patient phenotype in the lab using stem cell models of heart disease in collaboration with University of Nottingham and Queen Mary, University of London. I was able to reprogram patients’ cells from skin biopsies into induced pluripotent stem cells, and then differentiated these cells into cardiomyocytes that carry the same genotype as the patients from whom the original skin sample was obtained. This has laid the groundwork for me to study patient-specific disease in the lab without subjecting the patient to a cardiac biopsy. Further, I was able to develop collaborations with multiple international centres of excellence in Europe, USA and Japan, while having the opportunity to carry out unique practical aspects of my work in other centres in Northern Ireland and the Netherlands.

How would you describe your overall experience of St George’s?

I would highly recommend it! The Academic Clinical Fellowship, subsequent Clinical Research Fellowship and the NIHR Clinical Lectureship at St George’s have provided me with unparalleled opportunities to embark on novel and exciting areas of research whilst training as an academic Cardiologist and Electrophysiologist. I have been able to build on research skills I had developed previously, foster collaborations with international centres of excellence, and received the training, mentorship and resources to develop a wide variety of new skills. These range 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. My time at St George’s has been, and continues to be, an exciting, challenging and fulfilling experience.

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