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Meet our PhD students - Will Bleaney

Will Bleaney is a clinical fellow who has just entered the second year of his PhD project, supervised by Prof Andrew Sharrocks, Prof Yeng Ang at Salford Royal and Dr Was Mansoor at The Christie.

After a degree in biological sciences I considered my options and decided upon another four years of studying and a career in medicine. I wanted an immediately tangible application of biology for human benefit. After five years of clinical work I was ready to come back to investigate the science underpinning clinical decisions and patient treatments.

My laboratory experience at undergraduate level was the most enjoyable part of the degree and I had felt in my work since then like there had been an ‘itch to scratch’. My clinical interests had become focussed on internal medicine and oncology in particular. A large part of this was due to the potential for research work within the discipline. For me the opportunity to combine close and ongoing patient contact alongside involvement in constantly evolving translational science was very appealing.

My research is into the transcriptional networks that contribute to the development of upper gastrointestinal adenocarcinoma and its metastasis. The prognosis for oesophagogastric cancer is poor and fewer than one in five live for five years after their diagnosis. Oesophageal cancer in particular has been designated as one of Cancer Research UK’s “cancers of unmet need” due to limited improvement in patient outcomes. The oesophagus and stomach together make up the fifth most common site for cancer in the UK. These facts provide huge motivation for my work on the clinical research training fellowship.

I enjoy the variety and autonomy of the job. In the past year I have kept in contact with clinical medicine within The Christie hospital as well as developed understanding of laboratory and computational bioinformatics techniques and gathered experience in project planning and research ethics applications. I have been attending local support groups for patients with upper gastrointestinal malignancies at different local hospitals and enjoy discussing my group’s work with the people we hope to benefit from it.

There is plenty of exposure to the research of others through regular seminars and meetings and researchers and clinicians at the university are easily contactable for advice and collaboration. Most of my time is in the laboratory and my main PhD supervisor’s expertise is in molecular biology. I also benefit from two clinical supervisors from different fields which together provide a sounding board for questions and advice with a great breadth of experience.

The first year of the fellowship has passed quickly. The continuation report and viva process provides you with an opportunity to consolidate your work and surprise yourself with your progress over this time. There are often surprises with research in and out of the laboratory but it is the unpredictability that keeps things interesting.  I am looking forward to continuing with my research and seeing where the fellowship takes me in my career and the impact of my results on the understanding of oesophageal and gastric cancer biology.


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