Barbara McGowan is a consultant in diabetes and endocrinology at Guy’s and St Thomas’ in London, and a convenor of the Society’s Metabolic and Obesity Endocrine Network. Dr McGowan leads the obesity bariatric service at the hospital and her areas of research interest include gut hormones and remission of type 2 diabetes post-bariatric surgery.
What inspired you into endocrinology?
My initial biochemistry degree was inspired by a wonderful chemistry teacher. I had considered medicine at that time but the thought of a further five years in higher education was enough to suppress those feelings. I then tried my hand at selling my soul to the city and five years as an investment banker was enough to rekindle my spirit and courage to go to medical school. My love for molecules and metabolism made endocrinology an easy choice for me. I was lucky enough to stumble across Prof Meeran and Prof Bloom during my SHO years, who steered me towards a PhD in gut hormones and appetite control, which was supported by an MRC clinical fellowship. In 2009 I took a consultant post at Guy’s & St Thomas’ where I was tasked with developing a leading obesity service from scratch.
Tell us a little about your current clinical work
My work involves management of general and complex endocrinology, with a focus on hereditary endocrine disorders such as SDH disease and multiple endocrine neoplasia. As a lead for the medical obesity service, I also run a Tier 3/Tier 4 obesity service. My clinical research involves the running of several clinical trials on pharmacotherapy and metabolic surgery for the treatment of obesity. I am most excited about trying to understand mechanisms for weight loss and remission of type-2 diabetes post-bariatric surgery.
What do you think have been the most impactful advances in obesity and metabolism clinical practice?
From a clinical point of view, with the exception of metabolic surgery, we have had very little in terms of clinical advances for the treatment of obesity, which is quite surprising given that we have an epidemic of this disease. We have medication coming through but this is still not available in the NHS.
What do you think will be the next big breakthrough for treatment of obesity?
I am hoping that we will soon have much more effective pharmacological treatments that will include more powerful GLP-1 agonists and gut hormone combination therapies, to replicate outcomes from bariatric surgery, but without the surgery. The aspiration is to have better molecular markers that will help us to select patients likely to respond to different therapies.
What do you think are the biggest challenges faced by your clinical specialty?
Attracting high calibre trainees is big challenge. Endocrinology used to be considered an academic specialty, however service provision in NHS Trusts has become a burden that has detracted from the specialty. Furthermore, physicians wishing to pursue an academic career face funding challenges.
Are there any controversies in your practice area? How do you think they will be resolved?
Stigma regarding obesity is still rife, we need to educate the public, media and healthcare professionals and recognize obesity as a chronic disease. Until such time, prevention and treatment of obesity is unlikely to be prioritised.
What do you enjoy about being a Network convenor?
As a convenor, I am able to push the obesity agenda to help ensure it is well represented at SfE meetings. I was able to set up an annual Obesity Update conference at the Royal College of Physicians, and now run by Bioscientifica. The Network makes you part of an obesity family and allows like-minded people to get together and collaborate. Recently, I was able to use the Network to ask for opinion and support as to whether ‘Obesity should be recognized as a disease’. I would urge all members interested in obesity to join the network.
Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring endocrinologists?
Endocrinology is a wonderful specialty, it spans many important organs and provides a diagnostic challenge for disease management. Do not be put off by the uncertainties and go for it! Speak to your mentors, friends and colleagues for advice, it is a friendly community. And for those interested in obesity as a specialty, sign up to the Network and I look forward to speaking to you!
The Endocrine Networks are platforms for knowledge exchange and collaboration amongst basic and clinical researchers, clinical endocrinologists and endocrine nurses. The Networks enable members to discuss and find solutions to challenges within their specialist field.