Dr Helen Clarke

Clinical PhD Student

Helen Clarke

Meet Helen Clarke. She’s a Senior Specialist Registrar in Obstetrics & Gynaecology and is undertaking a clinical PhD, jointly funded by Cancer Research UK and the National Institute for Health Research, Biomedical Research Centre. The aim of her PhD is to define the molecular impact of total dietary replacement in endometrial and breast tissues.

Helen started her PhD project in 2019 and completed her project in 2023.

What is your background?


I am a Senior Specialist Registrar in Obstetrics & Gynaecology. I started my training within the Mersey Deanery following my foundation year rotations in the West Midlands Deanery. I graduated from Keele University School of Medicine in 2012.


I hold a BSc in Biomedical Science which I undertook before going to Medical School in 2007. I’ve taken 3 years out of training to undertake my PhD, which started in October 2019.


What is the aim of your research?


The title of my PhD is “Defining the Molecular Impact of Total Dietary Replacement in Endometrial and Breast Tissues”.

I have many research outcomes! I am leading a randomised controlled trial using a period of dietary replacement (calorie restriction of 850kcal per day) for 3 months in combination with 9 months of calorie controlled Mediterranean style food based-diet. We are performing biopsies of the breast and endometrium at baseline and 3-months to evaluate the molecular changes within these tissues to see if reductions can lead to cancer risk reduction/prevention. The primary outcome is a reduction in Ki67 – a cellular marker of proliferation. Secondary outcomes include changes in anthropometric measurements, markers of inflammation, insulin resistance and changes in mammographic density.


Who do you work / collaborate with?


I work in three teams technically; breast biology at MCRC, endometrial team at St. Mary’s Hospital and research dietetics at Prevent Breast Cancer Centre, Wythenshawe Hospital.


Who is your PhD funded by?


My PhD is jointly funded by Cancer Research UK and the National Institute for Health and Care Research Manchester Biomedical Research Centre.

There was a PhD title which was of interest to me and once I’d met my supervisors and seen the facility, I knew that this role was a perfect match for me.

Dr Helen Clarke

Clinical PhD Student

Why did you apply to the MCRC PhD scheme?


Within my clinical training, there are opportunities to subspecialise towards the end of training and I had decided I wanted to pursue a career as a subspecialty gynaecological oncologist. A higher research degree can be desirable for this career path and I’ve also done a bit of research before and enjoyed the experience. There was a PhD title which was of interest to me and once I’d met my supervisors and seen the facility, I knew that this role was a perfect match for me.


What do you love most about working with the MCRC?


The teams I am part of – they are all brilliant to work alongside.


What have been your proudest moments so far?


I have a few, but most recently, passing my membership exams for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists whilst succeeding at interview for my PhD simultaneously – I had my MCRC/CRUK interview 10 days before my exam – so was a very busy time!


What opportunities has the MCRC provided you with?


A top-class facility in which to undertake translational research.


What is it like working with your supervisor and team?


My lead supervisors are Dr Sacha Howell, Clinical Senior Lecturer and Oncologist at Christie Hospital and Professor Emma Crosbie, Professor of Gynaecological Oncology at St. Mary’s Hospital.  Dr Howell is a translational clinician specialising in mechanisms of action and resistance of endocrine therapies, both in the treatment and prevention of breast cancer.  Professor Crosbie’s research interests include screening, prevention and the early detection of gynaecological cancers, as well as developing new treatments and interventions for women with established disease.  I couldn’t have found a PhD in a better place.  I have three other supervisors: Dr Michelle Harvie (Research Dietitian), Professor Rob Clarke (Professor of Breast Biology) and Professor Tony Howell (Chair in Breast Oncology).  They have a wealth of experience in dietary interventions, breast biology and clinical trials for cancer prevention. I feel very lucky to have gained a spot in this team.


What support have you received whilst at the MCRC?


The administrative team have been so helpful; particularly with emergency documents about funding/grant codes for all of the applications required to register and launch a clinical trial.


My colleagues in the breast biology team have taken a gynaecologist under their wing and couldn’t be more helpful and supportive (and good fun) when sharing their skills acquired during their own research journeys.


What do you hope to achieve whilst at the MCRC?


The main aspiration is obviously completing my PhD; but acquiring and developing vital scientific and clinical skills to conduct translational research which I hope to incorporate into my future career.


What are your plans/aspirations after your PhD?


I want to keep a research element to my future career as I aspire to be a translational clinician. When my PhD ends, I hope to secure a training place specialising in gynaecological oncology before becoming a translational clinician with research incorporated alongside my clinical work.

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