Dr Bettina Wingelhofer
Meet Dr Bettina Wingelhofer, a postdoctoral researcher in the Leukaemia Biology Group at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute. Here, she talks about her research journey and her advice for prospective postdocs.
Dr Bettina Wingelhofer
Postdoc title: Identification of leukaemia-specific functionally active enhancers in acute myeloid leukaemia
Research group: Leukaemia Biology, Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute
Lead supervisor: Prof. Tim Somervaille
After completing my undergrad, masters and PhD in Vienna, I moved across to Manchester in 2018 to complete my Postdoc working on Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. This is one of the most common types of leukaemia in elderly patients and because of our ageing population, this type of leukaemia is becoming more and more prevalent, meaning research in this area is of much greater relevance.
My current project involves looking at the process whereby this type of cancer blocks differentiation of haematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow which results in a lack of myeloid cells that normally fight bacterial infections, defend the body against parasites and prevent the spread of tissue damage. Specifically, I am looking at ‘enhancer elements’ which are regions in the DNA important in regulating expression of genes relevant in this differentiation process. I hope to find proteins that regulate the activity of these elements and see whether we can target them in patients with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia to restore differentiation of their haematopoietic stem cells.
Currently, therapy regimens for this disease are very harsh and extremely toxic and come with a lot of side effects. With this cancer type being more prevalent in the elderly, high dose chemotherapy often isn’t an option due to patients already being frail, so in looking into the molecular mechanisms of this particular cancer we hope to find proteins involved in the disease and discover more targeted therapies. This would reduce the need for chemotherapy and enable us to develop patient specific treatments with fewer side effects which are more specific to their type of disease. I’m really hoping that this project provides results that can be translated into the clinic.
For my Postdoc, I really liked the idea of working abroad and the UK has fantastic opportunities in terms of positions and funding and also the sheer size of their cancer research landscape. When I began looking for my postdoc, I came across Prof. Tim Somervaille’s lab at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, and if I could have described what I wanted to do, it was exactly this, so I was very lucky in that respect.
Day-to-day I am in the lab and completely involved in the science and data analysis. Last year I became quite interested in teaching and I have now started delivering a series of lectures to students at the university. I think it is so important to pass on all the accumulated knowledge to the next generation to give an insight into what we’re doing and show them what could be done if this knowledge was utilised by them. I’m really excited about developing great working relationships with these students and helping them in their research.
Manchester is great for Postdoctoral positions and the university has a lot to offer in terms of career development. I am so thankful to them for providing me with my first experiences of teaching and also for providing me with such a comprehensive network of researchers. The Christie is also an amazing asset and helps with the translational aspects of my work with its renowned clinical teams.
Since we are working in translational cancer care, there is an extremely close collaboration between us, medicinal chemists, clinical staff and others and we really rely on these collaborations with people who come from other disciplines. It’s great to have other brains and eyes on this research as well.
I’m a very young postdoc and have just secured my first independent funding through a John Goldman Fellowship awarded by Leukaemia UK and I am really just starting to find the things that I’m interested in researching within the field of leukaemia. Looking forward I would love to gain funding to actually get students of my own and have my own lab which would run multiple different projects.
On the one hand, being involved in cancer research can be very difficult as there is a lot of pressure from donors, funders and also the public, but on the other hand being involved in this research is extremely rewarding. Working in cancer research you realise you have an impact and that you can affect people’s lives, and that’s the best thing about it really.
For those looking for a postdoctoral position, I think the really important thing is to start applying early, about 9 months before you would like to start. Secondly, I would say that you need to make sure that the lab does science that you absolutely love. Postdoc positions are hard and they take up a lot of your time and energy so it’s important that you are really invested in the science.
Manchester is great for Postdoctoral positions and the university has a lot to offer in terms of career development. I am so thankful to them for providing me with my first experiences of teaching and also for providing me with such a comprehensive network of researchers.
Dr Bettina Wingelhofer
Postdoc in the Leukaemia Biology group, Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute
Blood Cancer Awareness Month
Because blood cancers are so common in elderly patients, they will become an increasing problem in the future with our aged population. It’s very important to make the public aware of this and Blood Cancer Awareness Month is a perfect way to do this. On a personal level, as a scientist it is very important that people understand the funding aspect of the job and how my job alike many others in cancer research is dependent on public funding. In making people more aware of this disease and the work that is being done to improve treatments and patient outcomes, I hope we can attract greater funding and in turn better the scientific progress in this area of research to do the best we can for our patients.