Dr Laura Woodhouse
Clinical Research Training Fellow
Meet Dr Laura Woodhouse. She’s doing a clinical research training fellowship, funded by Cancer Research UK. Her PhD project is looking at the genetic patterns of lung cancer KRAS mutations to help identify alternative treatment options.
What is your background?
I studied an intercalated MRes in Cancer Sciences as part of my undergraduate medical degree at The University of Newcastle. I knew at that point that I was interested in cancer research and so after graduating medical school I completed the Academic Foundation Programme, which allowed me to complete research placements as part of my clinical training as a doctor. I carried out placements in different labs at The University of Newcastle to gain important research skills and see what it is like to work as a clinical academic researcher.
After completing my general medical training in London, I moved to Manchester to join The Christie NHS Foundation Trust as an Oncology Registrar. I’ve been in this role for the past three years but it was always my plan to do a higher degree, either an MD or a PhD, and so I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to pause my oncology training to study a Clinical Research Training Fellowship PhD.
What is your research focus?
My main research interest is in personalised medicine and biomarker identification to understand what treatments are most appropriate for an individual patient in the clinic. My research project is supervised by Professor David Wedge and Dr Colin Lindsay.
My research project is looking at a type of lung cancer where patients have KRAS mutations. I’m working primarily in David’s lab in the Oglesby Cancer Research Building (OCRB) and using different bioinformatic techniques to understand if patients with KRAS lung mutations have any difference in their genetic patterns or mutational signatures. The overall aim of my research project is to try and see if these patients have a different response to new treatment options, including immunotherapy or KRAS-inhibitors.
What does your typical day look like?
My typical day is quite different and varies depending on the stage of my research. At the minute I work primarily in the Wedge lab in the Oglesby Cancer Research Building in Withington. It’s a computer-based or ‘dry lab’ and so my typical day involves writing and tweaking code to run genome sequencing models or reading about statistical analysis of big data and thinking of ways to apply it to my experiments. Being a clinician, I obviously had very little experience in computer science and coding before starting my PhD, but I work closely with postdoc students in David’s lab who all have backgrounds in bioinformatics and mathematics.
It’s been a steep learning curve but I’ve really appreciate having them to guide me and teach me new skills. I also work within the lung team at the Christie and go to research clinics where I treat people diagnosed with lung cancer or who are taking part in clinical trials.
Was there someone who inspired you to study a PhD or work in cancer research?
Members of my family have been affected by cancer and so I have quite a personal motivation for wanting to work in cancer research.
But it wasn’t until medical school that I first became interested in oncology. I found the lectures really interesting and there is a wealth of opportunities to specialise in different areas of oncology so I knew early on that I wanted to do research within my medical training. During my Master’s I also worked in a lab alongside clinical PhD students. That was really inspiring and opened my eyes to different training opportunities.
When I’m doing my research I’ve got the overall goal of how it could benefit patients in my mind. Ultimately I’d like my research to make a difference to patients in some way – that’s my driver.
Clinical Research Training Fellow
What opportunities has the MCRC provided you with so far?
I’ve been to the Cancer Research UK clinical researchers meeting in London which was a great way to meet people from around the UK who are also funded by CRUK. It was great to network with consultants and clinical scientists who have already been through the PhD training programme and people who are in the same position as me and starting their research project.
How has the MCRC/ UoM supported your personal and professional development?
I’ve found lots of opportunities through the University to do further training and development. So far, I’ve attended a bioinformatics course to help me with my experiments that use statistical analysis and computation. I’ve also just found funding through the University to attend a spatial biology conference in London which is related to the bigger aims of my research project and I’m going to Rotterdam in the Netherlands in a couple of weeks to network with other clinician researchers interested in lung cancer. These opportunities have been fantastic as the first year of your PhD is always a steep learning curve.
Do you have any roles and responsibilities outside of your PhD?
I am a Postgraduate Rep for the Division of Cancer Sciences (DCS) so I go to meetings with the Doctoral Academy and DCS to represent the views of postgraduate researchers. I work from home a lot, or else I work on my own in the lab, and so it’s nice to network and meet other postgrads like me. Outside of my PhD, I love running and I’m part of a running club. I recently completed the Manchester Marathon for the third time!
Coming from a clinical background, I feel like a lot of clinicians tend to think or work in the same way. It’s been refreshing to work in a completely different environment and meet people from completely different backgrounds. We all share knowledge and learn from each other.
Clinical Research Training Fellow
What do you hope to achieve whilst at the MCRC?
Obviously, it would be great to be published – I think every researcher wants to get their research out to other researchers. I’d also like to attend more international conferences to see what’s happening elsewhere in the field of oncology. But ultimately, I want to do research that has a meaningful impact on people’s lives.
What are your plans and aspirations after your PhD?
After my PhD, I have one year left of my Oncology Registrar training before I can apply for jobs. But I’d love a consultant role that also includes some element of research or even academic opportunities alongside the clinical aspect of the job. A lot of it depends on what funding is available but I’d like to stay in Manchester if I can.
Do you have any advice for other people who are considering applying for a PhD?
It might sound obvious but it’s really important to do your PhD in a field you’re interested in. You’ll be studying for four years and it’s up to you to drive your research project forward so you need to be interested in your research.
It’s also important to meet your supervisor and supervisory team beforehand. You’ll have a lot of contact with them and they’re going to be crucial for your project so you need to check they’re the right fit for you. You should also try and get an idea of what environment you’ll be working in. Every lab is different and so it’s good to make sure your supervisory lab meets your research needs.