Are gut bugs telling our immune systems what to do?

| Steve Bieler

Kory P. Schrom, M.D., was born and raised in Ohio, went to school in Ohio, and is currently a clinical trials research fellow in the department of dermatology at University Hospitals in … Cleveland, Ohio.

“I think we end up where we need to be when we’re supposed to be there,” he says. This is a theme in his career.

In 2018, Schrom received an NPF Psoriatic Disease Research Fellowship to study the microbiome and its impact on psoriatic disease. He is working under the direction of Mahmoud A. Ghannoum, Ph.D. and Thomas S. McCormick, Ph.D.

Steve Bieler: When did you know you wanted to become a scientist?

Kory Schrom: It wasn’t something that I knew. It was more like I came to it rather than I chose it.

When I graduated from medical school and applied for a residency program in dermatology, it didn’t work out right away. It’s a very competitive specialty. When I asked my medical school mentors and peers what’s the next step, what do I do, one of the opportunities was research.

I had a position in internal medicine at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. During that time, I was connected with Dr. Neil Korman at University Hospitals. He said I needed a fellowship, that I should get into dermatology, and that I should interview with him. He eventually hired me as their dermatology clinical trials research fellow for the 2017-to-18 academic year.

Dermatology allows you to do a lot of things. It’s the intersection of all the things in medicine that excite me. The physiology, the immunology, the ability to use what we learned from the immune system to treat psoriasis. That’s why I wanted to do translational science [the bridge between research and treatments]. That sounded really exciting.

SB: Did you have a mentor or a favorite teacher? How did he influence you?

KS: I had a mentor who wasn’t a dermatologist. He was Dr. Kenneth Rosenthal at Northeast Ohio Medical University. He was so passionate about teaching and so interested in making sure that we got the information that we needed. He put us first, and that was an important lesson for me as a physician.

Dr. Korman is very much into the study of psoriasis. He was my boss, but also my mentor because he showed me better ways to interact with people, figuring out ways to make things happen. If you can’t get people to work with you, if you can’t formulate your ideas, you’re not going to be able to help your patients.

He also taught me to be one of those individuals who doesn’t just ask for things but actually brings an idea to the table. That’s how I ended up going to Dr. Ghannoum, because I knew he had done some great work in the microbiome as it related to Crohn’s disease. Inflammatory bowel has that inflammation crossover into psoriasis. We thought we could look if some of the things he saw in Crohn’s might be true in psoriasis as well.

SB: How would you explain your current research to a child?

KS: We’re looking at the bugs that live on and in our body and seeing how they interact with us. If you have all these bugs living on your body, who’s to say they’re not trying to tell your immune system or skin cells to do this or that? We’re trying to figure out what role they play in psoriasis.

SB: How do you unwind at the end of the day?

KS: I go to the gym and I’ll either go for a run or I’ll lift. When the weather is nice, I run more often than not.

SB: What would you be if you weren’t a scientist?

KS: I’d teach science. It’s amazing when you see that spark of somebody understanding how this results in that. In science, it’s all about process, it’s about that domino effect. That is something that is really hard for people to see. When you can get them there, that’s awesome.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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