MCRC Director, Rob Bristow awarded The Weiss medal for distinguished contributions to radiation science

Professor Robert Bristow, Director of the Manchester Cancer Research Centre, looking at the camera

 The Weiss medal is awarded by the Association for Radiation Research for distinguished contributions to radiation science. Our Director, Professor Rob Bristow has been awarded the medal this year, following on from a long list of highly renowned awardees, including Manchester’s Professor Catharine West in 2016. Professor Bristow discusses the importance of this award, what it means to him and how it showcases Manchester’s research strengths. 

When I look down the names of previous winners, I’m very honoured to be part of some really important scientists that have changed the way that we innovate on biology-directed radiotherapy to improve patient outcomes.

Rob Bristow

Director of the MCRC

A long-standing interest in radiobiology  

In radiation research, we have always been interested in being able to predict individual patient response to radiotherapy and understand how the biology of tumours may alter this individual response.

During my time in Toronto as a graduate student, I began looking at the intrinsic radiosensitivity of tumour cells as a potential factor to inform individualised radiotherapy. It became clear to me that the intrinsic radiosensitivity of tumours was dictated by genetics and so I moved to look into specific genes such as the TP53 tumour suppressor and ras and c-myc oncogenes. We carried out a number of pre-clinical studies showing this oncogene was an important modifier and that mutations in this gene lead to radiotherapy resistance.

I then completed my Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Netherlands, which allowed me to develop models to investigate mechanisms of DNA repair and TP53 DNA damage signalling in the first years of my permanent position in Toronto as a clinician scientist. I then started investigating the role of the tumour microenvironment and hypoxia in relation to DNA repair in a new team was funded by the Terry Fox Research Institute. This multi-investigator team science program focused on the marriage of genetics and the tumour microenvironment and how these factors drive radiotherapy resistance and metastasis.

This has continued to be the focus of my lab following my move to Manchester, collaborating with people like Professors Catharine West and Ananya Choudhury to discover how tumour hypoxia alters radiation response in primary human specimens. This mechanistic science is supported by the CRUK MI and CRUK RadNet Manchester and we wish target the tumour microenvironment to increase the radiosensitivity of tumours. This research seeks to increase the effects of radiotherapy and reduce the incidence of metastases, thus providing a higher likelihood of cure.

The Weiss medal

The Weiss medal was awarded to me for this trajectory of work which I began in the 1990s and was designed to show that the genetics of a tumour cell were very important in its response to radiotherapy.

It truly is a great honour to receive this award, following in the steps of two of my mentors who have received it before: Professor W. Gillies McKenna at Oxford and the previously mentioned Professor Catharine West at Manchester. When I look down the names of previous winners, I’m very honoured to be part of some really important scientists that have changed the way that we think about the use of radiotherapy for patients but also the biology behind it.

Receiving this award also makes me even more confident in our team science and I am very excited to be working with the likes of Professor David Wedge in whole genome sequencing consortia as well as Professors West and Choudhury on targeting tumour hypoxia during radiotherapy in prostate and other cancers.

As lead of our multidisciplinary CRUK RadNet grant, I feel great pride in working towards tackling the major challenges in radiobiology and radiation oncology. The Weiss medal recognises the work my team has catalysed here in the UK including with other RadNet centres.

Manchester Cancer Research Centre | MCRC Director, Rob Bristow awarded The Weiss medal for distinguished contributions to radiation science

What this means for Manchester 

I would like to focus on the importance of Team Science in taking the best qualities and hypotheses from our researchers across all different domains and applying them to a specific clinical question. Being awarded this medal highlights the importance of these collaborative efforts and exemplifies the great radiation research strengths in Manchester.

We created the RadNet grant on the basis of these Team Science principles. Here in Manchester, we have been successful in linking basic and discovery science and radiobiology to clinical impact. I hope our current trainee clinicians and scientists carry forward this Team Science approach and are themselves future winners of the Weiss medal, pioneering these techniques to improve patient radiotherapy outcomes.

Words from Catharine West, previous Weiss medal winner 

Rob receiving this medal is great for Manchester and it exemplifies Manchester’s continuing contribution to radiation sciences, highlighting our academic strengths. He will be the 40th person to receive this award amongst the previous eight winners from Manchester, adding to a distinguished list of radiation researchers.

Professor Catharine West headshot


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