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Faculty Spotlight: 'Cultivating a Beginner's Mind' With Kandace Gollomp, MD

Published on June 28, 2023 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 11 months 2 weeks ago


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Editor's Note: Welcome to our monthly Faculty Spotlight series, in which we sit down with faculty members at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute to learn more about their research and roles. Through these spotlights, our readers meet the diverse, dedicated, and distinctive individuals who lead our research community in our mission to improve children's health. It's a new round of spotlights, and this time, we're asking our featured scientists about how they encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion within their labs. In this Q&A, we meet Kandace Gollomp, MD, physician in the Division of Hematology at CHOP. Stay tuned for more from our Faculty Spotlight series throughout the year.

Kandace Gollomp, MD
Kandace Gollomp, MD

How long have you been at CHOP, and can you tell us a little bit about your research specialty?

I began my pediatric residency at CHOP in 2010, and they haven’t been able to get rid of me since. I am interested in understanding the role of the innate immune response in infectious and inflammatory disease with a focus on neutrophils. In response to pathogens or inflammatory signals, neutrophils can unravel and expel their DNA to create neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs), or webs of DNA coated with antimicrobial proteins, that can help to capture and kill pathogens including bacteria, fungi, and possibly viruses. However, when NETs are released in a dysregulated manner, they can damage small blood vessels, causing inappropriate clotting and organ injury. I study how NETs contribute to different diseases including sepsis, sickle cell disease, and antiphospholipid antibody syndrome. I am also interested in developing novel treatments that can modify NETs to enhance their ability to fight infections while limiting their ability to cause injury.

Why did you choose to focus on your research specialty?

In my first year of hematology/oncology fellowship, I became interested in how immune activation can lead to clotting. I joined the laboratory of Mortimer Poncz, MD, who has done great work to understand heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT), a complication that can result from use of a blood thinner that leads to a drop in platelets paradoxically associated with a high risk of clotting. While we typically think of HIT as a disorder of inappropriate platelet activation, I was tasked with studying how neutrophil activation contributes to clotting in this disorder. Those initial studies led to my fascination with NETs. To my surprise, I observed how activated platelets release compounds that interact with NETs and modify their ability to capture bacteria. This led me to examine how NETs behave in other models of infection and inflammation.

Tell us about current or recent research projects that you are excited about?

 I am particularly excited about two projects. The first is designed to define how NETs control the growth and spread of different bacterial species. I developed an animal model deficient in a protein required for robust NET release, and found it to have very high neutrophil counts along with low weights. Preliminary findings also show striking differences in the model’s intestinal microbiome compared to the control, with lower levels of pathogenic bacteria. We are now conducting studies to look at how the inflammatory environment and maturation of the microbiome diverge in NET-deficient models, while also studying how NET deficiency leads to differences in bacterial spread in disease models of sepsis.

In the second project, my group is studying how NETs contribute to organ injury and pain in sickle cell disease. We have been collecting plasma samples from adults and children with sickle cell disease at healthy checkups and during hospital admissions. This cohort includes individuals on no medications, those receiving hydroxyurea, and patients treated with voxelator and crizanlizumab, two new medications recently approved for the treatment of sickle cell disease. Working with collaborators in the dysregulated immune response team, gynecology, and psychology, we are using proteomic methods and microfluidic studies to quantify various inflammatory markers and define how age, sex, stress, and different therapeutics influence inflammation and cellular activation in sickle cell disease.

What are the long-term research questions you hope to answer?

 In my sepsis studies, I hope to cultivate a nuanced understanding of NETs-pathogen interactions to develop novel therapeutics that improve NET function while limiting their ability to do harm. In my work in sickle cell disease, my long-term goal is to generate data that may help point towards a personalized medicine approach that improves treatment outcomes.

How do you support diversity, equity, and inclusion among your research team? 

I think that diversity of experience and thought is essential to good clinical care and good science. In my lab, I try to cultivate an environment in which everyone feels respected, engaged, and comfortable offering up opinions and ideas that may not have occurred to me. My goal is to cultivate a “beginner’s mind” to remain open to new concepts, new questions, and new approaches. I love lab meetings where I get valuable input from creative students just beginning to engage with the science, from experienced technicians who know how to troubleshoot every problem, and from enthusiastic postdoctoral fellows who work hard to establish a unique line of inquiry.

I hope to build a team composed of individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences. I also foster collaborations with colleagues in many different fields from neonatology to intensive care, to gastroenterology, biophysics, microbiology, gynecology, and psychology. When putting together a collaborative network of talented individuals with diverse expertise, my experience is that you also tend to get a group of individuals with diverse backgrounds.