Wisdom from 'The West'
Reflecting on Professor Catharine West’s research legacy and radiobiology's future
On the 15th – 17th March 2023, the MCRC attended Wisdom from ‘The West’, an international conference organised in honour of Professor Catharine West, who retired in 2023. The conference was hosted at the Hilton Manchester Deansgate, and across the three days, it boasted nine chaired sessions, 24 speakers and 104 delegates.
The conference celebrated and showcased areas where Catharine made her mark whilst also looking to the future of radiobiology and biomarker research.
My time is coming to an end, but regardless, there is history to be made. People in this room are the future of radiobiology. Make it so.
Professor of Translational Radiobiology, The University of Manchester
About Catharine West
Catharine West is now an emerita Professor of Radiation Biology at The University of Manchester. During her career, her research focused on trying to predict how cancer patients responded to radiotherapy with a particular interest in measuring radiosensitivity and hypoxia. She jointly set up and led the International Radiogenomics Consortium, which identifies the genetic determinants of radiotherapy toxicity, thanks to international co-operation and collaboration in sharing data. She has published over 300 papers (h-index 80), has sat on numerous committees, editorial boards, advisory boards and received several awards.
From a personal standpoint I want to thank you for being a mentor and for your leadership but more importantly you’re a great example of a woman in science who puts people in their place that need putting in their place. You’ve got the legacy girl, so well done!
Professor Robert Bristow
Director of Manchester Cancer Research Centre
The Future of Radiobiology
Epitomising the international reach of Catharine’s research legacy, the conference boasted 24 speakers from 11 countries including Canada, United States of America, Norway, and Denmark.
This wonderful and erudite collection of people shared stories of their experiences of working with Catharine, funny anecdotes and a warm and sincere thanks to all that she had done to inspire them and influence their research.
Outside of these personal reflections, the conference also highlighted the future of radiobiology and radiotherapy research within the laboratory and the clinic. Across the nine sessions, the delegates were treated to an overview of the latest developments in hypoxia, radiotherapy biomarkers, computational pathology, imaging, and genomics. Among the highlights were:
- Jens Overgaard who provided a thorough overview of hypoxia throughout the decades and treatment options to combat it
- Peter Hoskin who outlined processes of clinical application and hypofractionation
- Carmel Mothersill who gave an overview of biomarkers for low dose radiotherapy exposure
- Heidi Lyng who outlined gene signatures in hypoxia and biomarkers in cervical cancer
- Joely Irlam who discussed the challenges and opportunities of commercialising research, and introducing innovations such as hypoxia signatures into the clinic
- Javier Torres-Roca who outlined GARD which uses genomics to optimise radiotherapy dose
- Marianne Aznar who presented data mining for the late effects of treatment with a focus on breast cancer
This diverse range of fields exemplified the impact and legacy of Catharine’s research with the speakers further reflecting on many noteworthy and pivotal learnings they had received from Catharine over the years.
We must all work better collectively and with purpose. A goal for anybody internationally is a goal for the whole [radiobiology] team. We want to be the best of the best because we want to change clinical practice. So, we have to aim high. You can’t be successful on your own. Collaboration is vital. I always share data whenever I can. I can’t understand why you wouldn’t.
Wisdom from Catharine West
Catharine has imparted many wisdoms onto those she has interacted with over the course of her career. Some of these were shared throughout the conference, including:
- Always good to have a testable hypothesis
- Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good
- We must embrace heterogeneity
- Select partners with skills and enthusiasm but above all who are co-operative
- Have the patient voice involved in research projects
- Seek to address the unmet clinical need
- How to write grants that actually get funded
- How high-quality data is precious
- How to pose…
Closing the conference was a final opportunity for Catharine to provide more wisdom for the early career researchers in the audience through a Q&A session. The audience asked Catharine a range of questions, from how to collaborate, how she balanced her family and work life, what were her greatest research achievements, how to be a good mentor, top tips for project management, how she kept going through the bad, along with many more. She provided honest, raw and humorous answers, and shared her experience with great ease to what she called ‘the future of radiobiology.’ Finally, she left us to muse on her very own radiobiology research principles based on the All Blacks rules.
Thank you, Catharine, so much. Everyone knows she’s a wonderful scientist, she’s a world leader in radiotherapy and life sciences, but she’s also a wonderful mother and grandmother. And during it all, Catharine was always there; she was an amazing support and that’s why I stayed for so long!
Chief Technology Officer, PDB Biotech
The 15 Radiobiology Research Principles from Catharine West
- Sweep the sheds – never be too big to do the small things that need to be done
- Go for the gap – when on top of your game, change your game
- Play with purpose – ask ‘why?’
- Pass the ball – leaders create leaders
- Create a learning environment – leaders are teachers
- No big egos – be a family
- Embrace expectations – aim for the biggest cloud
- Train to win – work hard
- Keep a blue head – stay calm
- Know thyself – keep it real
- Invent your own language – sing your world into existence
- Sacrifice – find the research area you enjoy and stay focused
- Ritualise and actualise – create a culture
- Be a good ancestor – plant trees you’ll never see
- Write your legacy – this is your time
Thank you for being such an amazing supervisor and mentor. It's been a privilege to work with you over the past ten years. You have influenced so many people and your influences will go into all those people's work.
Dr Laura Forker
The Christie & The University of Manchester
This conference was organised by members of The University of Manchester, Cancer Research UK RadNet Manchester, the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre, Manchester Cancer Research Centre and The Christie.
It was great to see talks on things that are a bit outside my normal field, which has resulted in a couple of potential collaborations to explore.
University of Edinburgh