GESA president: research concerns and career pathways


By Mardi Chapman

19 Sep 2023

Professor Alex Boussioutas

The new GESA president Professor Alex Boussioutas laughs about the length of his email signature and whether he can fit in another line acknowledging the latest addition to his roles and responsibilities.

Jokes aside, he told the limbic that the sum of his experiences – as a clinician, researcher and academic, with previous board experience – has suitably prepared him for the challenges of leading the Society for the next two years.

Professor Boussioutas is currently Director of Gastroenterology and Director of Clinical Genetics and Genomics at The Alfred, Head of GI Risk Management at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and has affiliations with Monash University and the University of Melbourne.

The upside of adding to his load is that he expects to get as much out of donating his time, energy and expertise to GESA as he is likely to put in.

“I find it enriching. Collectively, I can use all that knowledge to improve where we are and to actually move our society forward. I’m a forward looking person… and I’m really keen to actually make things happen and facilitate change. So as long as I’m doing that, and it’s change for the good, then I’m happy,” he said.

He’s very appreciative of the work of the previous board members under the leadership of Professor Ben Devereaux which involved some tweaking of the governance structure and, just two months ago, the appointment of GESA’s new CEO Jacquie O’Brien.

“And that gives us the freedom to now start looking at what are our strategic goals – so where are we going? What are we doing in education? What are we doing in research and how can we facilitate that?”

GESA immediate past president Prof Ben Devereaux, CEO Jacquie O’Brien and president Prof Alex Boussioutas at AGW 2023

Research concerns 

“There’s a concern around the country that there’s been some diminution of academic leaders or people who are training in gastroenterology and are doing higher degrees.”

“I need to do a little bit more research about the actual facts around this but anecdotally, there’s been a few people from other states that have actually said that there’s less of their trainees doing higher degrees and … the worry is, where’s the next generation of academics or academic supervisors?”

Professor Boussioutas, a former Associate Dean of Graduate Research at Melbourne University, said it’s a concern he’s taken seriously and ties in with a bigger discussion around career pathways for young gastroenterologists fresh from their training years.

He said there was unfinished piece of work for GESA in providing support in “the vacuum” immediately following training or “taking up where the College leaves off”.

“There’s this bit of a chasm that is between them and private practice or between them and academic practice. How do we fill that gap? How do we actually make it easier for career pathways for these young people?”

“So, for instance, one might be on an academic research track…an academic educational teaching track… another that might be a private practice track where we can hopefully teach people to be an ethical private practitioner. I’m really keen to actually engage the board to come up with ideas about how to take it forward,” he said.

Professor Boussioutas said GESA obviously supports research through initiatives such as the competitive and popular Young Investigator Awards at AGW.

“But it tends to be the same groups. How do we engage more broadly and allow people more opportunity?”

Advocacy and going global

He said GESA also had to advocate for more NHMRC and other funding for GI research.

“The current success rates in competitive grants is 10% to 12% but for gastroenterology and hepatology… it’s much less than that. So I think there’s a bit of work and a lot of advocacy that needs to happen.”

He also intends to continue to build on the growing momentum with the GESA Rural, Remote and Indigenous program, in particular with the goal of improving gastroenterology and hepatology outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

As well, GESA should be looking outwards and cementing relationships with other organisations in the Asia Pacific region, Europe, the UK and North America. The spinoffs would include growing Australia’s involvement in large scale, international clinical trials, he says.

Professor Boussioutas is a Fellow of GESA (2022) and a Fellow of the American Gastroenterology Association (2020) indicating his significant contributions to the field of gastroenterology.

He was the only non-US member of the Cancer Genome Atlas Research Network which published on the molecular characterisation of gastric cancer in Nature in 2014 [link here].

An earlier publication on patterns of gene expression in premalignant gastric mucosa and gastric cancer [link here] from his PhD earned him the Sir Peter MacCallum Medal for scientific excellence in 2004.

He continues to publish prolifically including on gastric cancer and Lynch syndrome.

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