Jennifer Kirwan is new head of the BIH Core Facility Metabolomics

Dr. Jennifer Kirwan
Photo: BIH/Christian Kruppa

In October 2016, Dr. Jennifer Kirwan took over as new head of the BIH Core Facility Metabolomics. She originally trained and practiced as a veterinarian and has been working in the field of mass spectrometry metabolomics for more than ten years now, looking at how metabolomics approaches can add new perspective to research challenges. Dr. Kirwan is particularly interested in how metabolic changes in disease can contribute to understanding on aetiology and contribute to new treatment discovery.

Three questions to Jennifer Kirwan:

Where and on what did you work before you joined BIH?

I originally started my metabolomics career at the University of Liverpool, UK where I undertook a PhD investigating circoviruses in pigs. Before moving to BIH, I was based at the University of Birmingham where I managed a metabolomics facility using metabolomics approaches to investigate everything from prediction of outcome in liver transplant patients to improving treatment decision making in brain damage in babies. I worked on a variety of materials including cells, tissue, and liquid samples.

Please describe your scientific interests.

My scientific interests are centered on mass spectrometry based metabolomics analyses, with particular interest in research with a clinical application. The concept of personalized medicine is becoming increasingly important and with it, the idea that no individual body system is in isolation from the rest, or we from our environment. For this reason, I believe that more holistic approaches to medical research questions can be worthwhile pursuing based on sound scientific grounds e.g. does the gut microbiome influence mental health? From a technical point of view, I am interested in the metabolomics pipeline as a whole, from good experimental design right through to data processing to optimize results and was in 2013 involved with the validation and implementation of a batch correction algorithm (QCRSC) developed by Prof David Broadhurst, Edith Cowan University, Joondalup which can be used to improve the robustness of data quality and thus results.

What are your plans for the BIH Core Facility Metabolomics?

Over the next five years, and working in close conjunction with the other BIH facilities, I hope to expand the services to offer a full systems biology approach to analysis of complex disease. In particular, I plan to enhance existing methods and develop new methods to expand the breadth of the metabolome coverage, the reproducibility and the robustness of analysis.

Please complete the following sentence: the most important thing for me is ...

... to aim for the best possible science! As defined by well designed experiments which are able to answer the biological question, results that are robust, reproducible and meaningful in their interpretation and progress which advances the boundaries of science and medicine. In order to achieve this, I especially count on the power of collaboration which is essential to good science. I believe that good collaborations start with good communication – and occasionally some honest but constructive criticism.