Senior Research Associate
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR ROLE
I suppose I am where I am now through sheer perseverance. I also like to think that I am here through talent, experience and resourcefulness. I have an excellent eye and that makes me a fine microscopist. Microscopy is a true skill and has played a large part in my career as a scientist and including the project I am currently working on. As a senior research associate I lead a project on mapping the tumour microenvironment (of prostate cancer) using multiplex imaging technology. It means that we are able to visualise proteins, rather than RNA, on microscopic sections on a single-cell basis. The technique I use is called CODEX and we could use more than 60 antibodies on a single section. I am interested in cell neighbourhoods and their spatial relation to tumour blood vessels. This generates very large data sets, which I analyse with the help of bio-informaticians.
My PI is Professor Ian Mills, whose research focuses on the biological drivers in prostate cancer progression and the resistance to treatment. We are embedded in a wider network of scientists, clinicians and pathologists of the Oxford Prostate Cancer Research Group and prostate cancer research has taken a front seat within Medical Sciences. My role within the department? Apart from being an intellectual asset, I do not feel that I am of much influence in the political landscape of Medical Sciences.
WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL ASPECT OF YOUR WORK?
I suppose the grandiose answer to that would be ‘to cure cancer’, but that would be a rather pompous thing to say. I draw motivation from more humble sources. For me the most meaningful aspect of my work is that I come closer to understand a most complex system (cancer). I observe and learn. Eventually that knowledge can be used to our advantage over the disease. Basic research is a slow process, often too slow for many. At the same time, it’s this fundamental understanding on which scientists and clinicians will built in the future.
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SOMETHING YOU'VE DONE, CONTRIBUTED TO THAT YOU'RE MOST PROUD OF?
Not many people know that I did my PhD in mechanistic organic chemistry. I had reached a point though, where I found a career in chemistry too predictable and yearned for the unknown. My favourite journal at the time had been Science. The energy coming across the Atlantic had an immense effect on me and I wanted to be part of it. I was very motivated and studied biochemistry and molecular biology in parallel to my PhD. A fellowship allowed me to take on a project in protein engineering with Frances H Arnold at Caltech. We called it ‘Directed Evolution’ and were real pioneers in the field back then. In 2018, Frances was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. So, in a small way I contributed to the most prestigious distinction a scientist can receive!
I however, moved on because I was far more fascinated by the mysteries of living cells and attracted by the bright and colourful world of microscopy.
WHAT CHANGES WOULD YOU MOST LIKE TO SEE IN THE MEDICAL SCIENCES IN THE NEXT 100 YEARS?
I feel that medicine is still very much shaped by prestige and rank. I wish a breakdown of the archaic and hierarchical structures which are like a millstone around the neck of progress.