Postdoc Appreciation Week 2020 (21st – 25th September) is an annual event designed to highlight the global achievements and contributions of postdocs (research fellows, research associates, bioinformatic officers etc.). Originating with the National Postdoc Association in the USA (National Postdoc Appreciation Week), the University of Manchester has since won the 2019 Elsevier ‘Best New Event’ Award for Postdoc Appreciation Week and is now part of the first UK/ROI-wide consortium celebrating postdocs across UK and Irish Universities.
Recognising postdoctoral successes is paramount; they not only contribute world-leading research to our field but have been found to be instrumental in training the next generation of researchers.
Given the current climate of COVID-19, the Manchester Cancer Research Centre wish to recognise our postdocs’ 2019–20 outstanding contributions; having invited submissions from our PIs and group leaders, we won’t have captured all successes - if you are a current postdoc with achievements we could highlight, we’d love for you to get in touch with us at MCRCtraining@manchester.ac.uk.
Breast Cancer Research
Led by Professor Rob Clarke, the Manchester Breast Centre's mission is to create a world-class centre for basic and translational breast cancer research, leading to effective detection and treatment of women at risk, and ultimately elimination of the disease.
Dr Rachel Eyre (pictured far-left) was awarded the 2019 Breast Cancer Now Sir Antony Driver Prize: Researcher of the Year. The annual prize is awarded to a researcher who has shown incredible commitment to their field. Reflecting on her award in conversation with Breast Cancer Now, Dr Eyre commented “It’s an honour and it’s wonderful to be recognised in this way. However, my work has been a collaboration between teams at both the University of Manchester and the University of Sheffield. So, I would like to think I’m collecting the prize on behalf of everyone who has been involved”. The full interview is available at the link.
Dr Angélica Santiago-Gómez was awarded the Best Selected Oral Presentation at the British Association for Cancer Research (BACR) Special Conference on Breast Cancer, Newcastle, 2019, for her presentation entitled ‘NOTCH signalling regulates bone metastatic stem cell dormancy in ER+ breast cancer’. The conference covered the recent developments in breast cancer research, with world-leading speakers bringing a clinical and pre-clinical perspective to each topic.
Dr Bruno Simões was promoted from research associate to research fellow in August 2019.
Cancer Prevention and Early Detection
Our Cancer Prevention and Early Detection theme aims to reduce the inequalities associated with cancer prevention and early detection by identifying those populations in Greater Manchester at highest cancer risk; establish and validate rules to predict cancer risk; develop personalised approaches to select the most appropriate preventive therapy and/or lifestyle interventions and reduce the number of patients diagnosed with late-stage cancers in Greater Manchester, by improving and developing new early detection methods.
Dr Vanitha Sivalingam successfully applied for a £30k CRUK International Alliance for Cancer Early Detection (ACED) grant 2019. Dr Sivalingam will use her ACED grant to visit the University of Cambridge and undertake a population health study to determine the risk of women with lichen sclerosus in England developing vulvar cancer, and which women are at greatest risk.
Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukaemia (CMML)
Epigenetics of Haematopoiesis group co-led by Dr Kiran Batta and Dr Daniel Wiseman is core-funded by The Oglesby Charitable Trust and is highly integrated with a tertiary referral clinical practice based at the adjacent Christie Hospital. They work closely with Professor Tim Somervaille’s Leukaemia Biology Group, thereby providing a stimulating collaborative environment with access to a diverse range of expertise and resources. Professor Somervaille is a group leader at the CRUK Manchester Institute.
Prior to joining the Manchester Cancer Research Centre, Dr Wiseman and Dr Batta’s postdoc, Dr Arundhati Dongre (pictured) co-presented a thematic poster on ‘Mast Cell Recruitment in Lymphangiomatosis and Lung Cystic’ at the 2019 American Thoracic Society International Conference.
Drug Discovery Unit
The Drug Discovery Unit at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute (CRUK MI), led by Professor Caroline Springer builds upon fundamental biology discoveries made within CRUK MI, the Manchester Cancer Research Centre, The University of Manchester and the wider cancer research community. Integrating medicinal, computational and synthetic chemistry with in vitro and cellular biology, the centre investigates novel drug discovery targets in an attempt to provide new chemical entities for the treatment of unmet clinical needs in cancer patients.
During lockdown, postdoctoral research associate Dr Cinzia Bordoni led a fundraising challenge for Cancer Research UK, taking on the charity’s Race for Life at Home challenge, and together with colleagues at the CRUK MI raised £3,000.
The Gynaecological Oncology group is based on the Research Floor at St Mary’s Hospital, within the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. St Mary’s is part of the Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT), formed in 2017 following the merger of Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CMFT) and University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust (UHSM). The Gynaecological Oncology group’s collaboration between scientists and clinicians has established Manchester as a leading centre of human papillomavirus (HPV) research both nationally and internationally. The group's current research portfolio includes external funding in excess of £3.5 million, with a particular emphasis on screening, prevention and early detection of gynaecological cancers.
Dr Sarah Kitson, NIHR clinical lecturer won the prestigious 2019 Wellbeing of Women Starter Grant for Clinical Lecturers. Dr Kitson published advice with the Wellbeing of Women charity as part of #GynaeCancerAwarenessMonth, available to read here.
Dr Vanitha Sivalingam (pictured), an NIHR clinical lecturer with Professor Crosbie, won a £10k grant from the British Society for the Study of Vulval Disease 2019. In her research, Dr Sivalingam is trying to find ways to encourage women who are at high risk of vulval cancer to self-examine, to see if this can help early detection.
Human acute myeloid leukaemias (AMLs) are heterogeneous with respect to the function of the cells that make up the disease. A minority of the cells are so called leukaemia stem cells (LSCs) which have the ability to self-renew for an extended, if not indefinite, period, while maintaining and expanding the disease. Professor Tim Somervaille’s lab aims to further the understanding of the biology of human LSCs, in order to identify genes and cellular pathways that are critical for their function and which could be targeted by novel therapies. Professor Somervaille’s Leukaemia Biology research group is part of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute; the Institute supports a number of investigative programmes, spanning both basic and translational cancer research.
Dr Bettina Wingelhofer (pictured), a postdoctoral fellow with Professor Somervaille, based at the CRUK Manchester Institute, was successful in her application for a Leukaemia UK John Goldman Fellowship 2020. Dr Wingelhofer’s project is titled ‘Identification of leukaemia-specific functionally active enhancers for future therapeutic targeting in acute myeloid leukaemia’ and will help us to understand how the complex network of interactions between enhancers and genes work, allowing us to identify novel regulators of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) which could be used for therapeutic targeting with the aim of saving more patients from this devastating condition.
Dr Wingelhofer kindly shared her tips for those consider applying for fellowships:
- Start early! Take your time thinking about your ideas, writing the application and plan in some time for revisions and improvements.
- Get lots and lots of feedback from your peers and senior researchers also outside your research area.
- Practice the interview multiple times with people that will ask you the really tough questions, you will get lots of confidence presenting your application and you will not be surprised by any questions in the real interview.
- In the interview, be optimistic, enthusiastic, and confident about your application. If you want to convince the reviewers to fund you, you have to show them that you believe in yourself and your ideas.
- Lastly, don't be disappointed by a rejection. Most of the time this is not due to the quality of your application or your qualification but what funding panels are interested in at the time and the huge amount of applications they are getting. Get some feedback from the funding organisation on why your application wasn't successful and try to use this in the next one.
Mitosis and Cancer Pharmacology
Facilitated by their close proximity to The Christie, Professor Stephen Taylor’s lab collects samples from patients with chemo-naïve and relapsed epithelial ovarian cancer treated at the Christie Hospital, either as solid biopsies or ascites.
Dr Nelson runs the lab’s liquid biopsy pipeline, which underpins much of their work. To build their living biobank of ovarian cancer models, she helped establish a workflow to generate ex vivo cultures of highly puriﬁed tumour cells, unfettered by contaminating, genetically normal stromal cells and the microenvironment, with extensive proliferative potential. Further details are available in their Nature Communications publication.
Dr Anthony Tighe, Dr Louisa Nelson and Sam Littler have made significant contributions to teaching; Dr Tighe supervised an MSci student and Dr Nelson and Sam Littler contributed to PEPs supervision.
Sam Littler (pictured) has been instrumental to the launch of the new Division of Cancer Sciences Twitter page (which can be followed here: @UoM_DCS), and ran a 2020 half marathon for the University of Manchester to fundraise for their Re-Write Cancer campaign. Sam Littler has also been engaged in green impact and Responsibility activities across the MCRC and the University of Manchester, including co-running a session on making EcoBricks from non-recyclable waste with primary school children for World Cancer Day 2020.
As members of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute community, the Molecular Oncology research group, led by Professor Richard Marais (CRUK MI Director), aims to expand knowledge of the basic biology underlying tumorigenesis in melanoma, breast and prostate cancer and translate this to patient benefit. Working in a multidisciplinary team composed of cell and molecular biologists as well as clinicians ensures that their discoveries are exploited in the fields of early detection of disease, personalised medicine and the development of novel therapeutic approaches.
Postdoctoral scientist, Dr Lucas Trucco received the American Association for Cancer Research- Pezcoller Foundation Scholar-in-Training Award 2019, which enables early-career scientists to attend the AACR Annual meeting. Dr Trucco presented a paper on ‘Melanocyte specific deletion of Map3k1 reveals its role in BRAFV600E-driven melanoma’, and attended a reception honouring awardees and funders.
Radiotherapy Related Research (RRR)
The Radiotherapy Related Research (RRR) Group was established in 2007 by the Manchester Cancer Research Centre (MCRC), to develop an internationally leading multi-disciplinary research group of University of Manchester academics and Christie researchers. Their radiotherapy research now has a particular focus on image-guided radiotherapy, proton therapy, radiobiology, imaging, theragnostics and radiotherapy-immunotherapy combinations. Much of this is enabled by cutting-edge facilities at The Christie that include Stereotactic Ablative Body Radiotherapy, an MR-Linac and a Proton Therapy Centre.
The PRECISE (Proton research at The Christie and the University’s Division of Cancer Sciences) group is led by Professor Karen Kirkby. They have been working with their clinical team to look at the biological effects of proton therapy and how to better incorporate this into treatment plans. This has involved postdocs Dr Nicholas Henthorn and Dr Christopher Rose (who left the group at the end of August) and another of their PhD students Ed Smith working closely with the Christie clinical team (Ran Mackay and Adam Aitkenhead). They have also been working with Massachusetts General Hospital / Harvard Medical School on a US consortium for a project called Topas n-Bio which is internationally recognised as the “gold standard” for modelling the interaction of radiation at a cellular and tissue level. The PRECISE team were asked to join the consortium (first group outside N America) to bring their models of DNA damage and repair in response to proton beams (and other types of radiation). The next release of Topas n-Bio will incorporate “the Manchester model”. This work is led by Dr Mike Merchant with postdocs Dr Nicholas Henthorn and Dr John Warmenhoven and PhD student student Sam Ingram.
Postdoc Dr Nicholas Henthorn spent a 6-month placement in GSI in Germany just prior to COVID-19 lockdown. This has strengthened their mathematical modelling activity and provided links to one of the leading German groups. Dr Henthorn has carried out regular public engagement with British Science Week and the Manchester Museum Science Spectacular.
Dr Amy Chadwick (pictured), research fellow, has been awarded a prestigious £70k Friends of Rosie grant, starting in January 2021, which looks at differences between protons and photons, and screens a range of drugs to understand how they might be used in Proton Beam Therapy.
The PRECISE group have continued their research on model radiotherapy demand led by Professor Norman Kirkby with postdoc Dr Thomas Mee and are now incorporating the effects of surgery, waiting times and screening and how these interact with outcomes and co-morbidities. Professor N. Kirkby and Dr Mee have also been providing information to CRUK’s policy unit and have EPSRC funding for a project that looks at the impact of COVID-19 changes in surgery and radiotherapy fractionation.
They have recently been joined by a new postdoc Dr Noemie Defourney who is looking at the health economics impact and linking it in to our demand models along with looking at cancer incidence models. Noemie is also leading an international collaboration with International Atomic Energy Authority IAEA and ESTRO HERO project in this area.
Dr Azadeh Abravan is a research associate in Professor Marcel van Herk’s group. Dr Abravan received a travel award from Yorkshire Cancer Research to attend ICCR 2019 in Montreal, where she presented work on ‘Prognostication of vascular calcification identified in 4DCT of lung cancer treated with stereotactic body radiation therapy’.
Tumours are complex ecosystems where cancer cells are embedded within a complex stromal reaction comprising multiple infiltrating cell types and pathological changes to the extracellular matrix. The aim of the Systems Oncology laboratory, led by Professor Claus Jorgensen, is to determine and define the rule-set by which tumour cells conscribe host cells to support tumour growth and resistance to therapies. Understanding these rules will enable development of synergistic combination therapies targeting both tumour cell intrinsic dependencies as well as their extrinsic dependencies on stromal reciprocal signals.
Postdoctoral fellow Dr Brian Lee attended the British Association for Cancer Research Tumour Microenvironment meeting in July 2019 and won an award for his poster.
Dr Joanna Kelly was part of CRUK MI’s winning team, along with postdoc Dr Andrew Porter from Cell Signalling and other colleagues, who were invited to present an exhibit at the prestigious Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition. They will demonstrate the complexity of cancer through a number of hands-on activities. Due to the pandemic, the exhibition has been postponed until July 2021.
The Translational Oncogenomics group, led by Professor Rob Bristow at the CRUK Manchester Institute (CRUK MI) investigates the mechanisms by which DNA repair gene dysfunction leads to genetic instability and aggression within prostate cancer.
In February 2020, Dr Richard Rebello (pictured) travelled to Melbourne on a Wellcome Trust ISSF Travel Fellowship to facilitate a new partnership between the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Manchester Cancer Research Centre/Christie Hospital. Whilst in Melbourne, Dr Rebello attended LORNE Cancer 2020, presenting a poster on ‘Determinants of aggression in Chromosome-8q amplified localised prostate cancer’, co-authored with Ronnie Rodrigues Pereira, Stephen Lyons and Rob Bristow. He also presented a seminar at Monash University, Melbourne, as well as attending AACR annual I & II and EACR Biennial 26 and DNA repair meetings.
Dr Rebello volunteered at the ‘Thankyou day’ for Cancer Research UK fundraisers in Manchester, which recognised the essential contributions of our fundraisers to our cancer research efforts, and was part of CRUK’s Newsletter/Annual Report’s Scientific Writing Team.
National Postdoc Appreciation Week UK 2020 career events can be re-watched here: https://uknpaw.eduzone.uk.
We want to thank all of our postdocs for their work this year and would welcome further contributions we could highlight at MCRCtraining@manchester.ac.uk.