AGA Research Foundation Researcher of the Month: Kyle Staller, MD, MPH

The AGA Research Foundation offers its flagship grant, the AGA Research Scholar Award, to the most promising early career investigators. Kyle Staller, MD, MPH, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, is no exception. We’re thrilled to highlight Dr. Staller — a 2016 AGA Research Scholar Award winner — as our AGA Research Foundation researcher of the month.

The Staller lab’s AGA-funded project is specifically focused on the risk factors for fecal incontinence, which have not been well-studied. One in 10 women over age 80 suffer from this debilitating condition. Dr. Staller looked at the lifestyles and dietary factors of female study participants in research databases to determine whether they were predisposed to developing fecal incontinence beyond the usual risk factors such as childbirth, which can cause injury to the pelvic floor, and diabetes. Dr. Staller believes that understanding and modifying risk factors could decrease the chance, or even prevent, women from developing this condition.

With his AGA Research Foundation grant, Dr. Staller found that consuming dietary fiber in higher quantities, and increasing moderate exercise up to a point, lowered the risk of developing fecal incontinence. “This tells us that not only is fiber healthy but also preventative to fecal incontinence,” he said.

“This is the next step in my career,” he said. “If I didn’t have the AGA Research Foundation grant, I don’t know if the opportunity would be there for me to go on to the next level. The AGA grant gives you the opportunity to get that baseline data so you can become a competitive applicant for longer-term grants.”

Dr. Staller says that he became interested in this area of study after patients, who were getting excited about their impending retirement or enjoying their retirement years, developed this life-altering condition. His compassion for his patients inspired him to study the factors leading to fecal incontinence, which will likely become more prevalent as the U.S. population ages.

He is currently using the baseline data from his AGA Research Foundation grant to support his application for a five-year NIH grant designed to help young investigators learn new research skills to further their careers.

“This is the next step in my career,” he said. “If I didn’t have the AGA Research Foundation grant, I don’t know if the opportunity would be there for me to go on to the next level. The AGA grant gives you the opportunity to get that baseline data so you can become a competitive applicant for longer-term grants.”

Another benefit of Dr. Staller’s AGA Research Foundation grant: it got him involved with AGA. Dr. Staller joined the new class of AGA Future Leaders in March 2019. AGA Future Leaders is the AGA’s competitive leadership development program designed to prepare early career GIs for future leadership roles in AGA, at their home institutions, and within the field of digestive diseases. The program kicked off at AGA’s inaugural leadership development conference.

“It is a true honor to participate in the AGA Future Leaders Program,” Dr. Staller said. “During the AGA Leadership Development Conference we learned concrete tips about effective leadership strategies across the spectrum of GI practice from research to clinical practice. Among our mentors were prominent researchers, clinical innovators, and division and department heads from across the U.S. There was no shortage of inspiration. Perhaps most importantly, I was able to form what I hope to be career-long connections with both my fellow future leaders program participants and our mentors.”

Dr. Staller’s qualifications as a clinician and researcher of bowel issues are put to good use as a father of two boys, ages 4 and 6, who are at the peak of the potty humor stage.

“They’re interested in the GI tract as well,” Dr. Staller said with a laugh. “My mom likes to say I never got out of the potty phase and made it a career. It’s important to feel comfortable talking about these uncomfortable topics. That’s what people want from their physician. If you can talk about this and the physician doesn’t bat an eyelash, that’s a good set up to have a good therapeutic relationship.”

 

 

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