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Kim Barrett is a native of England. She received her undergraduate and PhD degrees, in 1979 and 1982, respectively, from University College London, England. Her thesis research, on the topic of mast cell heterogeneity, was conducted under the supervision of Professor Frederick L. Pearce.
On receiving her doctorate, Dr Barrett was offered a post-doctoral position in the laboratory of Dr Dean Metcalfe, at the NIH. Here she continued to work on mast cell biology, with a particular emphasis on the properties and function of mast cells in the gastrointestinal tract. Her expertise in this area landed her a research faculty position in the laboratory of the late Dr Kiertisin Dharmsathaphorn, at the School of Medicine, University of California, San Diego (UCSD), USA. Dr Barrett completed her westward migration by taking up a position in Dr Dharmsathaphorn's group in 1985.
On receiving independent NIH funding in 1988, Dr Barrett was transferred to the professorial series, and rose through the ranks in the Department of Medicine, being promoted to Professor of Medicine in 1996. In 1999, she was also appointed as Vice-Chair for Research in the Department of Medicine, and she serves additionally as Chair of the Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program at UCSD.
- What made you decide to become a gastroenterologist?
- I always saw myself in academic biomedical science, but I ended up in the GI field rather by accident. I started out in the mast cell field, for which the obvious application was asthma and the lung. However, that field seemed impossibly crowded, and so I looked for another organ system, and thought the GI tract might be a good application with respect to food allergy, which was quite poorly understood (still is!). A few more twists and turns found me working on the epithelium, which remains the focus of our work up till the present time.
- Who was the teacher you admired the most?
- My high school headmistress, Elsa Cameron, was without a doubt my earliest and one of my most important inspirations. She was trained as a chemist at a time when few women dared to enter the field, and while she always addressed us as 'ladies' (hopelessly politically incorrect these days) she also made me believe that I could do anything I wanted to in my career.
- Which research paper influenced you the most?
- There are way too many to answer this question succinctly!
- What is the most important fact that you have discovered?
- That the progress and significance of the work conducted by my laboratory has very little to do with me. It has everything to do with my ability to attract and develop talented junior colleagues.
- What is the biggest mistake that you have made?
- Probably not going to medical school, or, more accurately, not finding my way into a US-style MD/PhD program, and then putting the whole idea off in favor of establishing my research career until it was too late. However, the UK system was not very accommodating to the aspirations of a physician-scientist when I started my education with a major focus on research and academia.
- What is your unfulfilled ambition?
- It's a secret.
- What is your greatest regret?
- Fortunately, I don't have any major regrets thus far. I've been very lucky.
- How do you relax?
- I love to cook both elaborate and simple dinners, to throw parties, and to enjoy good food and wine that others have prepared (either amateurs or professionals). I'm also very fond of what would be called 'art films' in the US, but in my native England are simply just regular films. The joke in my lab is that I'll only go to see films with subtitles, which simply isn't true (other than the fact that, sometimes, American audiences need subtitles for English accents, including mine).
- What is your favorite sport?
- I am passionate about American football, and especially the Washington Redskins, although this year they have disappointed me cruelly.
- What is your best place in the world?
- All things considered, it still has to be my birthplace, London. I just get a special feeling as soon as I step off a tube, bus, or train and walk through Bloomsbury and the West End. However, San Francisco has to be a close second.
- What is your favorite film?
- Again, so many...how to make a choice? A recent favorite was "Billy Elliot". I've enjoyed just about everything by Mike Leigh. And an all-time love is "Truly, Madly, Deeply" - I must have seen it a dozen times now.
- What car do you drive?
- A bright red Jaguar XK8 convertible. Acquired this year in a moment of total insanity, but I haven't regretted it for even a microsecond.
- What is your best electronic 'toy'?
- My Palm VII. I could not function without it, especially the wireless e-mail.
- What book are you reading at the moment?
- "In a Sunburned Country", by Bill Bryson - I just returned from my first trip to Australia.
- Why did you get in involved in GastroHep.com?
- To increase the visibility of women in our discipline.