"Perhaps a cliché, but I like that no two days are the same"
1.How did you become interested in translational gastroenterology?
My PhD studies focused on the development of gene therapy options for disease, including chronic wounds and cancers. I was fascinated by how the altering of the genetic code of a single tissue compartment can result in a landscape wide shift in cellular architecture. This interest lead me to work on gastrointestinal tissue and more specifically colorectal cancers and how cells within non-cancers and cancers arrange themselves as influenced not only by their genotype but the environment. Cells are highly expressive entities; they are in constant communication with each other through processes like chemotaxis or mechanotransduction. Blockade of this cross-talk can lead to loss of tissue homeostasis, and dysplastic transformation.
2.What are you currently working on and what importance does your work hold for current patients with gastrointestinal issues?
My work triangulates recent advances in our understanding of indispensable intercompartmental signalling, the development of disease-positioned syngeneic animal models of CRC, and our capacity to molecularly stratify patients in advance of therapy initiation. To visualise what is happening on a single cell level within tumours, we have optimised a series of multiplex imaging panels that can be used on both human and mouse tissue, allowing for the analysis of immune/stromal/matrix on one slide and using tissue blocks from the vast diagnostic archive. I work very closely with mathematicians at the University of Oxford, who can use the data that I generate from these multiplex images and run spatial analysis. This allows us to understand what cells are interacting with each other, and which are not. With the huge challenge of inter-/intra-patient heterogenicity, identifying specific cellular interactions could help solidify common ground across cancers and lead to the discovery of targetable cell functional niches in hard-to-treat tumour types, increasing our understanding of why tumours are resistant in the first place. It is my belief that a deeper understanding of complex cellular interactions through the marriage of biology and math will lead to better precision medicine approaches.
3. What do you enjoy most about scientific research?
Perhaps a cliché, but I like that no two days are the same. As with most scientists, I am in a constant state of learning, may it be a new technique or how particular genes influence cell function. An academic career is very demanding, but I enjoy being able to work with a wide range of people from a variety of backgrounds, from clinicians to mathematicians.
4.What’s the best part of being an Oxford University TGU member?
The TGU epitomises everything I enjoy about research. It is a central resource hub for scientists and clinicians alike to come together and learn from and collaborate with each other, which is key to better understand the diseases we are interested in.