Stories Found in Tissues

By Lynn McCain | September 17 2018

Simon Hogan, PhD, journeyed halfway across the globe three times along the path to joining the Michigan Medicine Department of Pathology in April 2018.  Hogan is a native of Leeton, New South Wales, Australia, a small country town 350 miles west of Sydney consisting of 11,000 people. He completed his PhD at the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University in Canberra, where he originally focused on understanding immunological processes that underlie allergic airways diseases.  Hogan relocated to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, to pursue his postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Allergy, Immunology and Pulmonary medicine.  During this time, he realized the increasing incidence of allergic diseases of the GI tract and that there was very little investigation into understanding disease and no existing model systems to study the diseases.  This piqued his interest, so he returned to Canberra to work in the Foster Laboratory. He worked as an NHMRC CJ Martin Fellow in the Allergy and Inflammation Research Group in the Division of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at his alma mater, becoming the Head of Gastrointestinal Research Laboratory in 2003.  In 2004, Hogan was recruited back to the University of Cincinnati as an assistant professor of pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  Promotion to associate professor was attained in 2009, with tenure earned in 2012.

When the University of Michigan began recruiting him, Hogan found the cluster of strong investigators in his field of mucosal immunology and food allergy combined with the great collaborative and interactive environment strongly appealing.  Not only is Pathology strong in inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and food allergies, but Pediatrics and Internal Medicine also have strong clinical allergy and immunology, and gastroenterology teams.  He is particularly excited to have an opportunity to work with James Baker Jr, MD, and his team at the Mary H. Weiser Food Allergy Center and members of the Eosinophilic Esophagitis group, Joel Rubenstein, MD, (Gastroenterology, Internal Medicine) and Andrew Singer, MD, (Pediatric Gastroenterology, Pediatrics). “I am a firm believer in team science.  I have observed firsthand the great advancements that can occur in science and medicine when you put minds together with a common goal,” said Hogan. “With the extensive electronic and biospecimen repository program at U-M and the talented physician and medical science faculty, I think we have a great opportunity to make significant advances in the field of food allergy and IBD.”

How did Hogan discover the field of pathology and what drew his interest?  Hogan explains, “My first exposure to pathology was simply to review histological slides of biopsy samples from patients with allergic diseases, and peering through the microscope was like reading a storybook of this tissue – from disease pathogenesis to diagnosis to treatment.  This led me to begin to ask questions regarding the underlying immunological processes of disease.”  That being said, Hogan added that the biggest challenge he feels scientists face in pathology is trying to manage public expectations.  “We are somewhat a victim of our own success. The times of a magic pill that can cure disease are long gone! We are learning that diseases such as food allergy, where we have unmet treatment needs, are very complex. As humans are so diverse, what may work for one person, or ten people, may not work for all. For example, if we can find a pill to cure peanut allergies, it may not work for milk allergies.”

This challenge gives voice to the wisdom he received from mentors as he began his career, “It is a long race,” and “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it!”  For those who are following behind him, Hogan counsels, “You need a combination of a hard work ethic, passion, and the ability to enjoy, to succeed.  You must enjoy or find pleasure in what you are doing.  You will be spending three-quarters of your life doing it – if you don’t get some enjoyment from it, that’s not a fun life!”  For the college student considering pathology, he encourages them.  “You don’t have to be the brightest or first in the class.  With dedication and commitment, everyone can contribute.”  Along the way, don’t forget to be pleasant!  Those who reach the pinnacle of success while being a pleasant human being along the journey are the ones who inspire him.  He endeavors to emulate them and is gratified that he has been able to build strong relationships with those on his team.  Upon moving to Michigan, five of his laboratory staff chose to uproot their lives and move to U-M with him.  That loyalty and commitment touched him deeply.

Outside the Laboratory

Hogan enjoys an active lifestyle, filled with mountain biking, running, and horseback riding with his wife, Courtney Wilkens, who is a school teacher at Three Fires Elementary in Howell.
Hogan enjoys cooking, “I choose an ethnic cuisine each year on which to focus and attempt to master”.  So far, he has dabbled in Thai, Indian, Italian, and Creole cuisines.  This year, he is focused on Mexican cuisine.  Feel free to stop by if you want to talk science or even get a cooking tip.  He can be found on the 5th floor of the BSRB.
Don’t forget to “Like” his lab’s Facebook page, Hogan Lab at Michigan Medicine University of Michigan to keep abreast of the great work being done in the field of GI allergic diseases.