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Faculty Spotlight: Driving Discovery in Food Allergies with David Hill, MD, PhD

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April 13, 2021
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Editor’s Note: This Q&A is the fourth in a series of monthly Cornerstone stories, 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 have the opportunity to meet the diverse, dedicated, and distinctive individuals who lead our research community in our mission to improve children’s health. In this Q&A, we feature David Hill, MD, PhD, an attending physician in the Division of Allergy and Immunology. At April’s Faculty Luncheon, Dr. Hill will discuss how epidemiologic investigations of pediatric disease can directly inform basic and translational research efforts. Stay tuned for more from our Faculty Spotlight series throughout this year!

David Hill, MD, PhD

David Hill, MD, PhD, our featured faculty member for April, studies pediatric allergy and obesity.

How long have you been at CHOP? 

I came as a pediatric resident in 2013 and remained for my fellowship in Allergy and Immunology. Before that, I was a MD/PhD student at Penn. As such, I have a long and very enjoyable history with CHOP. I am honored for it to still be my professional home.

Can you tell us a little about your research specialty?  

I am an innate immunologist, and I use epidemiologic and wet-lab approaches to study pediatric allergy and obesity — the two most common chronic diseases of childhood.

Why did you choose to focus on that specialty?  

David Hill, MD, PhD

My interest in the immune system stretches back to college and was greatly fostered by my PhD adviser, David Artis. I chose Allergy as a clinical and research specialty because I saw a tremendous opportunity to positively impact the health of children. My interests in obesity as an immunomodulatory pressure are more recent and were greatly strengthened during my postdoc with Mitchel Lazar. In addition to being a significant cause of morbidity in its own right, it is my opinion that obesity is the single greatest modifier of immune health in the developed world.

Can you tell us about a current or recent research project that you are excited about?

I feel very fortunate that I have many projects in my lab that I’m excited about. One of my greatest pleasures is to watch junior scientists (at the PhD or postdoc level) grow as scientists. I had a great conversation today with a Penn graduate student in my lab, Eric Rodriguez-Lopez, who is studying an emerging form of food allergy called eosinophilic esophagitis. His work in mice and human samples is poised to fundamentally shift our understanding of the origins of this disease.

This same condition is the focus of another project that was just published in Allergy. In this case, a top-notch research scientist in my lab, Julie Dilollo, developed a lab test to identify the foods that cause disease in individual patients. This latter project was supported by the CHOP Frontier effort and is currently in the process of being adopted by our clinical immunology lab.

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

David Hill, MD, PhD

Fundamentally, I want to know more about the reasons why children develop allergy, be they genetic, environmental, or psychosocial, in the hopes that we can interfere with those processes. I have a high degree of suspicion that diet and obesity are mechanistically linked to worse allergic outcomes, and I would particularly like to provide medically actionable information regarding this relationship.

Can you share any words of advice to young scientists or students who aspire to become physician-scientists like yourself?

During every career stage, and at every decision point, follow your heart. If your heart is in the work, you will both enjoy it, and it will take you far.

Learn more about Dr. Hill's research at April’s Faculty Luncheon, April 22.