Dr Liz Whittaker is Senior Clinical Lecturer in paediatric infectious diseases and immunology. She divides her time between Imperial College London and the Department of Paediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology, St. Marys Hospital, London where she is a Consultant.
Dr Whittaker is the co-lead for HCID (high consequence infectious diseases) at St Marys. She is on the RCPCH COVID expert advisory group. Together with colleagues in paediatric infectious diseases at Imperial College and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, as well as other paediatric centres in the UK, she described a novel inflammatory syndrome in children known as PIMS (paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome) or MIS-C (Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children).
Her main research interests are the ontogeny of infant immune responses to a variety of pathogens. Her PhD data suggest that children under a year of age have an immaturity of their non-specific T cells or innate immune responses in conjunction with increased numbers of regulatory T cells. She has been expanding on this theme while an NIHR funded ACL and now by creating generic and specific assays that will examine the maturation of immune responses in children of different ages, from premature infants of different gestation to older children with 'mature' immune systems. The aim of this research is to develop biomarkers of infection for diagnostic purposes in neonates and to understand differences in immature immune responses that may lead to protection for this vulnerable group, either through vaccinations or immunomodulatory interventions in pregnancy and/or the early neonatal period. Understanding these differences is essential for the development of new adjuvants which will increase the efficacy of neonatal vaccinations to such pathogens as CMV, Group B streptococcus & RSV.
She has an ESPID funded study exploring the role of CMV Elispot in determining the need and duration of treatment in infants with peri-natal CMV.
Her PhD students work on the impact of viral co-infection on tuberculosis (TB) susceptibility as well as factors that lead to increased susceptibility to TB disease and infection in adolescents.
Liz is the paediatric specialty co-lead for the northwest London Clinical Research Network. In this role, she leads the development of local clinical research network activity in paediatrics, encouraging local clinicians to participate in NIHR clinical research network portfolio studies. She is PI of a number of commercial and non-commercial studies on the NIHR portfolio.
Liz is the Convener of the British Paediatric Allergy, Immunity and Infection Group (BPAIIG) and Chairperson of the British Association of Paediatric TB (BAPT).
In addition, Liz has a strong interest in teaching and training and currently is the quality advisor to the paediatric allergy, immunology and infectious diseases CSAC committee at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
Liz completed her Wellcome Trust funded PhD project "Immune responses to mycobacteria; the role of age and disease severity" in 2014. The project was supervised by Professor Beate Kampmann at Imperial College and Professors Mark Nicol and Heather Zar at the University of Cape Town, where all of the children were recruited at Red Cross Memorial Children's Hospital. She was fortunate to complete her lab work in the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine in Cape Town, working closely with both Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Initiative (CIDRI) and the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI).
She completed her undergraduate training in medicine at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, including an HRB (Health Research Board) funded BSc in Biochemistry. This included a basic research project 'The role of NFkappaB in 5-Lipoxygenase activation' with Prof. Luke O'Neill for which she won the Bruno Orsi Medal for best research project. Following this she trained as a paediatrician in London and was successfully awarded an Academic Clinical Fellowship in Paediatric Infectious Diseases in 2006. The 9 month research period associated with this fellowship allowed her to develop her interest in paediatric infectious diseases and involved a couple of research projects (on TB Biomarkers and Interferon Gamma Release Assays) which resulted in a number of presentations and publications. During this time she was also involved in the setting up of a paediatric TB Europe Network to facilitate collaboration between Paediatricians caring for children with TB and improved care for children with TB in Europe. She completed the Gorgas Diploma Course in Clinical Tropical Medicine in Peru and was awarded a DTM&H in 2009.
She is a member of IMPRINT and INVAR networks.
et al., 2021, Risk factors for PICU admission and death among children and young people hospitalized with COVID-19 and PIMS-TS in England during the first pandemic year, Nature Medicine, ISSN:1078-8956
et al., 2021, Pediatric Antifungal Prescribing Patterns Identify Significant Opportunities to Rationalize Antifungal Use in Children., Pediatr Infect Dis J
et al., 2021, Deaths in children and young people in England after SARS-CoV-2 infection during the first pandemic year, Nature Medicine, ISSN:1078-8956
Speirs L, Whittaker E, 2021, Fifteen-minute consultation: What do I do with a baby born to a mother with tuberculosis?, Archives of Disease in Childhood-education and Practice Edition, Vol:106, ISSN:1743-0585, Pages:210-215
et al., 2021, Long COVID and the mental and physical health of children and young people: national matched cohort study protocol (the CLoCk study), Bmj Open, Vol:11, ISSN:2044-6055, Pages:1-5