Dina Kao

“To conduct research, we need patient participation.”

My name is Dina Kao. I am a gastroenterologist at the University of Alberta. I really did not expect to go into research at all when I went into the field of medicine. I always imagined myself being a clinician, and I really just stumbled into this area of Clostridium difficile infection and the research associated with it.

Clostridium difficile infection: this is an opportunistic infection that usually affects people who have been taking antibiotics for whatever reason, whether it’s pneumonia or a bladder infection. It would also kill a lot of the good bacteria in our large intestine. So what happens is that, when it takes a hold in the large intestine, it can produce toxin or poison, so to speak. And that can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea… The person can lose weight. And sometimes in this kind of context, the treatment usually is antibiotics. In some severe cases, the antibiotics [don’t] even work.

I happened to be involved with a pharmaceutical trial where we were investigating the efficacy of a new product. And I knew in the context, we were probably going to run into some patients who, for them, this compound may not work and that C. diff is going to come back again. So then I started looking into what other options can I possibly offer these patients. Because once they come to see you, I want you to have a good solution for them. If one thing doesn’t work, what is my backup plan?

Probably in 2012… and I think back then fecal transplant isn’t really something that is at the forefront of medicine. It is still very much under the table, kind of thing. People going hush-hush, that kind of thing. So I looked into this and kind of thought, “That’s very interesting. It seems to make a lot of sense. Because instead of trying to kill the C. diff, we are sort of looking at a different approach. And we are trying to essentially replace what’s missing.”

I feel very privileged to be in Alberta because we have such phenomenal funding [and] resources available to us. I have met with other individuals in a similar field, and even other provinces or in other countries like the United States. And they just don’t have the same kinds of resources, the same kind of funding or infrastructure. And I really feel very lucky and very privileged.

So right now we have treatments for all sorts of conditions, but many of the treatments are not perfect. And so the only way to improve patient care is really through research. And in order to conduct research, we need patient participation. Obviously we need researchers, we need good ideas, we need the infrastructure, we need the funding, but ultimately we need patient involvement. We need to engage the public, and we need people to realize that this is the only way we can really move the science forward. And ultimately the goal is to provide better patient care.

I heard about this African saying. It says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together.” And I thought that is absolutely perfect.