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Trinity PhD researcher hoping to shed light on skin disease

Dr Katie Ridge, a Clinical Lecturer in Immunology in Trinity College Dublin’s (TCD) School of Medicine and a Specialist Registrar in St James’s Hospital is undertaking a PhD on the skin condition, Chronic Spontaneous Urticaria and Angioedema. Dr Ridge’s work relates to sex as a biological variable, or rather how sex can influence your likelihood of developing a disease and also how severe that disease might be.

Chronic spontaneous Urticaria and Angioedema is characterised by hives and swellings that last longer than six weeks and can be extremely difficult for patients to manage. It is almost three times as common in females. Dr Ridge describes her work with patients:

I am lucky enough to work directly with patients with this condition at St. James’s Hospital. My research is an attempt to understand differences between males and females with Chronic Spontaneous Urticaria and Angioedema at a cellular level, which will hopefully inform our understanding of sex differences in disease more broadly. I hope that this research will contribute to a growing body of work where sex as a biological variable is placed at the centre of medical research and approaches to treatment.”

Certain misconceptions exist around this condition. For example, both health care providers and patients can interpret the symptoms of chronic spontaneous urticaria and angioedema as food allergy. This can understandably cause increased anxiety in patients and may lead to unnecessarily restricted diets. There may be a considerable delay in diagnosis, and patients can typically present multiple times to healthcare providers before a diagnosis is established. In Europe, the mean time to diagnosis is 2-4 years. The condition is treated with antihistamines; however, a proportion of patients will not respond to antihistamine treatment even at high doses. A high-cost monoclonal antibody drug, Omalizumab, is given on a case-by-case basis and patients require in-hospital administration and support.

Dr Ridge won one of the top two prizes in the PhD category at the recent TCD Health Sciences Research Blitz. Dr Ridge described the event:

The afternoon itself was a showcase of the breadth of innovative research that is currently being undertaken in Trinity. It was a treat to see more than people’s heads and shoulders after two years of presenting into a laptop.”

Dr Ridge also won the enviable prize for the funniest presentation:

I have to give credit to my husband for the honour of winning the funniest presentation, as he selected some topical pop culture themes which tallied with my research!

Dr Ridge is supervised by Professor Niall Conlon and Professor Cliona O’Farrelly:

My supervisors have both been tireless in helping me to achieve this opportunity of an integrated clinical academic training, which as part of the ICAT programme, I am so lucky to have. I must also mention Professor Padraic Fallon and Dr Jamie Sugrue, who have helped me to navigate new territories as I move from the clinic to the bench

Dr Ridge initially trained in Psychology in University College Dublin (UCD), and completed a Masters in University College London. She received her medical degree from UCD in 2015 and commenced Higher Specialist Training in Clinical Immunology in 2020.

Dr Ridge is a Wellcome Health Research Board (HRB) ICAT Fellow. ICAT is an exciting, new all-Ireland clinician PhD programme funded primarily by the Wellcome Trust and Health Research Board, with ongoing collaboration and additional funding support from multiple partners including six academic institutions (TCD, UCD, NUI Galway, Queen’s University Belfast, RCSI and UCC), the Health Service Executive National Doctors Training and Planning, the Forum of Irish Postgraduate Medical Training Bodies, the Health and Social Care in Northern Ireland R&D Division and the Northern Ireland Medical & Dental Training Agency. The programme is coordinated by Molecular Medicine Ireland.

Read a recent article written by Dr Ridge and co-authored by Dr Niall Conlon (Department of Immunology, St James’s Hospital) & TCD: https://hospitalprofessionalnews.ie/2022/04/04/latest-advances-in-csu/

A recently-published peer-review article is accessible here: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/falgy.2021.810418/full