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  1. How did you become interested in translational gastroenterology?  

My first involvement in translational gastroenterology was as a postdoc working on an industry partnership project evaluating circulating biomarkers and developing marker panel algorithms to produce a blood-based diagnostic test for colorectal cancer that could be directly applicable to the NHS screening programme. It was very stimulating for my research work to be so close to translation, with scientific decisions being made based on possible real impacts to the screening programme, but fundamentally, the broad screening approach to developing a diagnostic product required a ruthless focus on test performance over digging deeper into the underlying biology. After that project, I joined Prof. Leedham’s lab to work on translational research questions relating to more fundamental cellular and molecular bases of gastrointestinal disease, to take my previous experience working in colorectal cancer but steer it in a direction more rooted in mechanisms of disease biology. 

  1. What are you currently working on and what importance does your work hold for current patients with gastrointestinal issues? 

I’m currently working on investigating the web of relationships between epithelial cells, fibroblasts, and immune cells in gastrointestinal tumours. Traditional approaches to cancer treatment focus on targeting proliferation of tumour epithelial cells, but we know that tumour epithelia actively remodel their microenvironment to create conditions that are beneficial for their growth and survival. I’m currently looking into how the different subtypes and genotypes in colorectal cancer lead to different cell compositions, as well as the mechanisms that drive the progressive change in tissue composition in these different directions. Our hope is that by understanding the drivers of these microenvironmental changes, we can identify the processes in each cell type that support and sustain the aggressiveness and treatment responses of the tumours as a whole. Eventually, the objective is to identify treatment strategies that allow us to both target tumour epithelial proliferation and cripple the microenvironmental elements that allow them to survive and to thrive. 

  1. What do you enjoy most about scientific research? 

I’ve always enjoyed how scientific research opens doors to take on new challenges that I would be considered unqualified to take on in another field. I trained primarily as a cellular and molecular biologist, worked on inflammation in paediatric critical care and in aging in C. elegans as a masters student, studied metabolomics and analytical chemistry for my PhD, and transitioned into bioinformatics and machine learning for my postdoc – which is how I transitioned into working for Prof. Leedham here at Oxford. Now, I’m coming full circle and adding cellular, molecular, and biochemistry work to what was once full-time bioinformatics and data science, so I’ve never felt boxed into a limited niche while working in scientific research. 

  1. What’s the best part of being an Oxford University TGU member? 

I really value the diverse range of research interests and the depth of expertise in the TGU – it is always stimulating to hear about ongoing research on other gastrointestinal diseases as it helps provide other angles on gastrointestinal biology that we might not have considered in our own corner of the field. The strong coordination of these varied gastrointestinal disease interests is also an immense asset, as I feel like it has allowed us and other TGU research scientists to move quickly on important questions with the backing and underpinning work of our broader TGU clinical community.