Pioneering research

Roger and Sophie Dobson

The Roger Dobson Fund: supporting autoimmune liver disease research

"Without the Roger Dobson Fund's support, many of the discoveries we’ve made would have been impossible." - Professor Giorgina Mieli-Vergani, Director of Paediatric Liver Service

Roger Dobson Fund logoThe Roger Dobson Fund has raised over £200,000 since it was formed 10 years ago, and tireless fundraising by family, friends and many others means it won’t be stopping there.

The fund contributes to the study of autoimmune liver disease in children and young people, with the aim of finding safe treatments that improve quality of life and, in the future, to cure the condition altogether.

The Dobson family’s story

Kate and Roger Dobson’s daughter, Sophie, was diagnosed with autoimmune liver disease in 2001 when she was 13 years old. She received treatment which helped control the disease for a number of years, but eventually ended up needing a liver transplant in September 2009.

‘The transplant was brilliant, it was life-changing for Sophie,’ says Kate. ‘She’s 26 now and her health is fabulous. We can’t thank King’s enough.’

Kate and Roger began raising money for children’s liver disease almost immediately after Sophie’s diagnosis. However, they realised they’d like their donations to go specifically towards autoimmune liver disease research, so when Roger sadly died from a brain tumour in 2007 Kate set up a fund at King’s for this purpose in his memory.

Autoimmune liver disease and the research around it

Autoimmune liver disease occurs when the immune system – for reasons that are still unknown – recognises self-components of the liver as foreign and attacks them. The disease can be managed with treatment; unfortunately though, the treatment cannot target only the cells that are attacking the liver and therefore the whole of the immune system can be affected, meaning its ability to fight infections is weakened. 

The treatment is successful in controlling the disease in the majority of cases but needs to be continued lifelong, with various side effects. For those people like Sophie in whom the treatment fails, the only option is a liver transplant.

Professor Giorgina Mieli-Vergani and Professor Diego Vergani have been researching autoimmune liver disease since the 1970s. Their work at King’s has been supported by the Roger Dobson Fund for over ten years.

‘To be able to develop better treatments that are more effective and have less side effects, it is essential to understand what causes the immune system to attack self-components of the liver,’ explains Giorgina. ‘Only by knowing this will it be possible to target treatment to those cells that cause damage.

‘The fund has supported key researchers who have been able to map pathways through which the immune attack occurs. Without its support, many of the discoveries we’ve made would have been impossible.’

Amazing fundraising

Below left image: Kate Dobson with Dr Sheila Sorby at a spring fundraiser. Below right image: Kate's mother, Judy Hooley, selling raffle tickets at a Christmas fundraising event.

Kate Dobson with Dr Sheila Sorby at a spring fundraiser     Kate's mother, Judy Hooley, at a Christmas fundraising event

Family and friends have worked hard to raise money for the Roger Dobson Fund in many different ways. There are regular events such as coffee mornings and art exhibitions, Christmas fairs and springtime bulb fairs, as well as athletic folk taking on challenges such as marathons and 100 mile cycle rides. Often, people simply give in Roger’s memory or ask for donations to the fund in place of gifts at times of celebration.

‘It’s so important to us because this condition that Sophie has is ongoing,’ says Kate. ‘Although her transplant made her healthy, she still lives with autoimmune liver disease and so do many others. 

‘The staff and researchers at King’s are so motivated in a way that’s very reassuring. It’s inspirational to see the things that the fund has helped achieve, such as funding the researchers and some of the laboratory equipment they use. 

'My late husband Roger was a keen and tireless fundraiser for this cause before he died and if he was still here he’d definitely still be doing that. I think he would be very proud.’

If you’d like to join Kate and her friends and family in fundraising for the Roger Dobson Fund and research into autoimmune liver disease, there are many ways you can get involved – find out more!

Top image: Roger Dobson with daughter, Sophie, who is treated at King's for autoimmune liver disease