Pancreatitis is often followed by cardiovascular complications, which may be fatal after the patient is discharged from the hospital. Veronika Lillik, who in September was named the best PhD student at the Centre for Translational Medicine, is researching these links and how to prevent them.

Veronika Lillik graduated as a medical doctor from the University of Pécs last year and started her doctoral studies this semester. "I've been a resident at the hospital in Székesfehérvár for a year, starting with internal medicine, and later I'd like to specialize in gastroenterology. At the same time, I am doing a hybrid PhD at the Centre for Translational Medicine. My topic is related to pancreatitis, and I'm researching its cardiovascular complications."

The medical doctor had already developed an interest in research during her undergraduate years, as a student researcher. She had the opportunity to do it in her third year at the Institute of Translational Medicine in Pécs. "I attended the first lecture on Pathophysiology at the institute, led by Péter Hegyi. His lecture was about evidence-based medicine and how practical it can be. Since I had studied almost all theory for two years, I was hungry for practice. So, a friend and I approached the professor and enrolled in the Translational Medicine Centre training. We both did our research there, and we had lots of opportunities as students. We had the chance to deliver a presentation at an international conference and to work in a great community."

Beyond university

The work continued after graduation, but now in Székesfehérvár. "We knew that pancreatitis increased the risk of cardiovascular complications, but this correlation had not been researched deeply before. This led us to the idea of carrying out a meta-analysis and conducting an observational study, which is now the basis of my PhD thesis."

The preliminary research phase involved looking for articles that could be used for meta-analysis. These describe cardiovascular complications that were looked at in the same population. The most striking signs were ECG abnormalities, including QT time abnormalities, but there were also differences in the echocardiographic findings. Laboratory findings also showed that patients with pancreatitis often had elevated levels of cardiac enzymes. These are very interesting developments worth investigating more seriously.

Patient follow-up

Dr. Lillik's research may highlight what to look out for in pancreatitis patients after recovery. Heart abnormalities should be monitored while the patient is still in hospital because these can be used to predict the possible severity of the disease. They can also indicate a risk of death, enabling doctors to pay more attention to those with a high risk. This may help prevent cardiovascular complications of pancreatitis. If lab tests and ECG results indicate it, a cardiologist may also perform an echocardiogram and other tests.

Research can be done alongside the day job. Dr. Lillik does not find it demanding to monitor cardiological parameters in addition to bedside work. Of course, she has to consult cardiologists frequently, but her colleagues are also open to cooperation. The Hospital of Székesfehérvár is very good at this kind of collaboration. The head of the cardiology department himself is involved in a lot of clinical research, and so is Dr. Lillik's boss, Professor Izbéki. This working method is supported throughout the hospital, which is encouraging for a doctor who is open to acquiring new knowledge.

(Emese Szabó)