Niluja Thiru is a clinical fellow who has just entered the second year of her PhD project, supervised by Professors Catharine West, Ananya Choudhury and Robert Bristow.
I am a radiation oncologist and I completed my training in Australia. During my clinical fellowship in London I came across the opportunity to do a PhD at The University of Manchester.
The field of radiobiology is one of the cornerstones of radiation oncology and underpins how we treat solid tumours with radiation. Unfortunately, there is very little work done in this field in Australia and the opportunity to undertake similar research projects in radiobiology towards a higher research degree is limited. This was my motivation for taking on a research fellowship in the UK, with the idea that the skills and knowledge that I gained would benefit patients and improve the profile of clinician scientists in Radiation Oncology in Australia and establish lifelong research collaboration.
The focus of my research is a translational radiobiology project that aims to develop and validate a biomarker to select prostate cancer patients most likely to benefit from hypoxia modification. Hopefully this research will lead to the design of a biomarker driven trial to maximise therapeutic gain by personalising the treatment for patients with prostate cancer who receive radiotherapy as their definitive treatment.
It had been over a decade since I’d done any laboratory-based work and so I stumbled across the same challenges a lot of clinicians face when transitioning into the lab. Although it was a steep learning curve the great team within the lab, particularly the post-doc on the project (Dr Becky Bibby) and the scientific officers, has been tremendous support in helping me acquire the necessary skills to conduct the research.
One of the advantages of doing a translational research project as a clinical fellow is the opportunity to collaborate with expert clinicians and clinician scientist in this field. I have presented my work at local, national and international conferences all in the first year of my PhD.
A highlight of my first year was going through the process of grant application and securing my first one for an additional part of my project. I also participated in a one week intensive workshop in Ziest (Methods in Clinical Cancer Research). This workshop was established to reverse the decline in numbers of clinical scientists. I presented a proposed trial protocol based on the prostate hypoxia signature and further developed my protocol with expert advice and getting the essential training needed in order to conduct better clinical and translational trial designs.