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I work at the interface between academic science and commercial healthcare. As a UKRI Innovation Scholar, I split my time between the Department of Oncology, where I manage the Live Tissue Facility, and Perspectum, a biotechnology company delivering digital technologies to help clinicians provide better care for patients.
After studying Biochemistry at Trinity, I pursued a career in cancer research, working on various projects, including the relationship between genetics, pathology and clinical characteristics of brain tumours. Seeing first-hand how discoveries in the laboratory can lead to improvements in patient care inspired me to get more involved. I moved to the Department of Oncology in 2019, working with academic and commercial collaborators on immuno-oncology projects and testing the potential of new cancer therapies in human tissue samples.
Working with academic scientists, commercial scientists and clinicians is hugely rewarding and give me new perspectives on my research. It also means I can contribute to the development of new and better cancer treatments and to see them evolve from lab-bench discoveries to viable healthcare products.
At Trinity I give tutorials to first year undergraduates in Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. We cover genes and molecules and how these fundamental biochemical concepts relate to wider topics in medicine.
The genetic changes that turn cells cancerous can also cause them to produce new molecules (called neoantigens). These molecules are displayed on the surface of the cells and identify them as cancer cells. This is a problem for the cancer, since these new molecules can be recognised by the immune system and cause it to attack the cancer.
However, cancer has some molecular tricks to hide itself from the immune system. Firstly, to avoid being seen, a growing tumour can alter the molecules it presents on the surface of its cells so it no longer looks like a cancer cell. Secondly, cancers can modify their local environment by releasing substances that make it hostile to the immune system and thus reduce their chance of detection even further. We are exploring this game of molecular hide-and-seek to develop anticancer treatments that tip the balance in favour of the immune system and allow it to find and destroy cancer cells.