Working at the intersection: cross-disciplinary endocrinology
Josef Köhrle & Gail Risbridger | Opinion
Josef Köhrle and Gail Risbridger are, respectively, Editor-in-Chief and Senior Editor of the Society’s open access journal Endocrine Connections. Here, they discuss the opportunities and challenges associated with working at the intersection of endocrinology and other related disciplines in medical science.
A multidisciplinary approach to research is not a new concept. Increasingly, it is being recognised favourably by the funding bodies that make decisions about grant applications. Many see it as having a greater potential to solve ‘real-world problems’ than specific research within a single discipline. When a cross-disciplinary team works well, the reciprocal interactive relationships ensure that all participants focus on the ultimate goal. Rather than conducting experiments or testing hypotheses simply because they can be done, the focus is set firmly on what needs to be achieved to provide proof of concept.
As the scientific discipline of biological communication via hormones, various mediators, their receptors and a multitude of intracellular signalling pathways, the field of endocrinology has inherent cross-disciplinary potential. Together with neuronal, immunological, nutritive and – of recent interest – environmental factors, the highly versatile endocrine system is key to maintaining a homeostatic balance between living organisms and the challenges presented by their environment.
Health and disease, reproduction, survival and ageing are controlled by hormones. They perform the essential biological communication within multicellular organisms, affecting their various organs, and controlling their responses to nutrients and the environment.
For many researchers, the widespread application of endocrinology across the medical sciences presents opportunities to be involved in interdisciplinary research. As Research Director of the Monash Comprehensive Cancer Consortium (Melbourne, Australia), and after training in reproductive endocrinology, I work at the intersection of cancer research and endocrinology. For my own field of prostate cancer, an endocrine training and background are essential, as the main focus of therapies is to block androgen signalling.
My endocrine background is also a terrific advantage. As more men receive androgen deprivation therapy, the consequences, such as obesity, diabetes and osteoporosis, make the role of the endocrinologist even more important in patient management. To maximise the potential benefits of cross-disciplinary co-ordination, urologists, oncologists and pathologists collaborate closely and even research scientists attend the multidisciplinary team meetings.
Endocrinology’s broad relevance across the medical sciences means much research is potentially interesting to a wide range of other researchers, clinicians and medical practitioners who may not class themselves as endocrinologists. Nevertheless finding a suitable place to publish and disseminate this work can be challenging because of the diverse target audience.
Researchers working in fields that closely intersect with endocrinology, such as cancer, ageing, dermatology and cardiology, may not fully appreciate the relevance of their research to other disciplines. Publishing in specialist journals makes it less likely that the findings may be read by endocrinologists.
Gail Risberger is Research Director of the Monash Comprehensive Cancer Consortium and at Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Her research includes stromal–epithelial cell interactions in normal and cancerous prostate using tissue recombination, animal and human specimens
Even within the field of endocrinology, the scopes of traditional peer-reviewed journals tend to be fairly specific, covering core endocrine topics such as research on endocrine glands, or the stereotypical endocrine disorders of obesity and diabetes. Endocrine Connections, the Society for Endocrinology’s interdisciplinary journal, satisfies the growing need for a cross-discipline publishing outlet for endocrinology. The journal links the medical disciplines dealing with processes influenced by, and modulating, the hormonal system.
There is a special focus on those organs which are not typically considered as endocrine glands or tissues, but which are strongly involved in endocrine regulation and homeostasis. ‘New’ endocrine-active tissues, such as liver, adipose tissue, muscle, the gastrointestinal tract with its microbiota, the heart and cardiovascular system, as well as the central nervous system, are all covered by Endocrine Connections.
Given the increasing number of opportunities available to endocrinologists to collaborate with medical practitioners and researchers from other disciplines, it seems that overcoming the challenges associated with interdisciplinary research is becoming more and more worthwhile, and has the potential to allow endocrinologists to contribute to closing some of the large knowledge gaps that remain in the medical sciences.
Josef Köhrle is Chairman of the Institute for Experimental Endocrinology at the Charité University Medicine, Berlin, Germany. His interest centres on thyroid hormones and their metabolites, particularly regarding energy metabolism and regulation of body weight
Endocrine Connections is the Society for Endocrinology’s official open access journal. Now in its ﬁfth year of publication, the journal is indexed in PubMed Central and the Science Citation Index Expanded. It addresses the core of endocrine communication: the hormonal connections between individual body parts and the whole healthy or diseased living organism (typically human).
Members of the Society for Endocrinology beneﬁt from a discounted publication charge of just £765. You can ﬁnd out more at www.endocrineconnections.com.