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World Cancer Day: Inspirational Alumni

World Cancer Day: Inspirational Alumni

by Newcastle University

Take a look at how our inspirational alumni are contributing to the fight against cancer.

I wanted to make a difference



Name Robert
Course studied – Medicine
Current job title – Retired Colorectal Cancer Surgeon/Medical Director/Deputy Chief Executive

What does your job entail and how has your role impacted cancer research?

I chose to study Medicine because I wanted to make a difference and for it to really matter as to whether I went to work each day. Also I thought this course of study and work would allow me to remain in contact and involved with Newcastle University which has retained its world class status throughout that time.

I now work for the faculty of Medical Leadership where I am a founding senior fellow but before I retired, I worked mainly with patients with bowel cancer.

I became my trusts' research lead and worked with the university on research and teaching throughout my whole career. I later became the trusts' most senior doctor, i.e. Medical Director, as well as Deputy Chief Executive.

I supervised a number of MDs and PhDs on related subjects. Throughout I liaised with Professor Sir John Burn in genetics, various teams in molecular biology and clinical colleagues so that we had work going on at every stage of cancer progression from preventative work on pre-cancerous abnormalities, throughout the stages of bowel cancer, including those who unfortunately had advanced disease.


I work as an honorary consultant in the Northern Centre for cancer care


Name – Ruth
Course studied – Medicine
Current job title – Clinical Professor of Experimental Cancer Medicine, Newcastle University

What does your job entail and how has your role impacted cancer research?

I undertook my undergraduate medical degree at Cambridge, DPhil and then clinical medicine at Oxford, and then moved to Newcastle for postgraduate clinical training as it is one of the premier centres in the UK for this. I have a CCT in Medical Oncology and now work as an honorary consultant in the Northern Centre for cancer care, being employed by Newcastle University. I lead the CRUK Newcastle Cancer centre and ECMC, and direct the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer trials research Centre, which is one of the UK's most active early phase cancer trials unit. I work as a clinical academic to help the discovery and delivery of better cancer treatment for patients.

My lab research has made fundamental discoveries of cancer origins


Name – Richard
Course studied – Medicine, BMedSci, PhD
Current job title – Li Ka Shing Chair of Oncology and CRUK Centre Director, University of Cambridge

What does your job entail and how has your role impacted cancer research?

I trained as a paediatric oncologist in Newcastle and completed my PhD and clinical training before moving to the US in 2000. There, I worked at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital where I ran a research group and in the last five years served as Lillian R Cannon Endowed Chair, Executive Vice President and Scientific and Cancer Centre Director.

I returned to the UK in 2015. I Chair the Department of Oncology and direct the CRUK Major Centre. This Centre includes >800 clinicians and scientists working across 12 Programmes aimed at reducing the mortality and morbidity of cancer through research treatment and education. I also run a research group that studies developmental biology and the origins of cancer. My lab research has made fundamental discoveries of cancer origins - particularly childhood brain tumours. My senior administration role has set strategic direction and major growth of leading cancer centres both in the US and UK.

My post-Newcastle career has been devoted to cancer care and research


Name – Kathryn
Course studied – Medicine
Current job title – Vice President, Outcomes and Evidence

What does your job entail and how has your role impacted cancer research?

I am a board certified hemato-oncologist, after medical school I completed clinical training in London, UK. With a strong focus on cancer outcomes research throughout my career and over 50 peer-reviewed publications, I moved to an industry role with Pfizer in 2016 where I led the global data science initiatives from New York as well as developing and getting approvals with regulatory grade observational research within Pfizer Oncology.

I moved to my current role with Guardant Health in 2018 where I am VP of Outcomes and Evidence focusing on early detection of cancer and applied health economics and outcomes research. I am the principal investigator of ECLIPSE, the prospective, multi-site, observational study which is currently enrolling and aims to recruit 10,000 subjects to provide the clinical validation cohort for the colorectal cancer screening assay developed by Guardant Health.

I lead all clinical research for a biotechnology company in Silicon Valley in California - both primar registrational clinical trials (we are currently recruiting a 10,000 subject prospective clinical trial in colorectal cancer screening) and secondary real-world data research using observational data from non-clinical trial sources (electronic medical records, passive data devices and insurance claims data) to derive insights into diseases and treatments.

Both my 10 years in clinical hemato-oncology and my current role at the cutting edge of medical research in cancer screening have meant that my post-Newcastle career has been devoted to cancer care and research. In my current role, I am able to combine the data and technology vanguard of Silicon Valley with the patient-centricity and population health principles that I learned at Newcastle Medical School.

I practised overseas deployed with the army


Name – David
Course studied – Medicine
Current job title – Retired General Surgeon/Urologist

What does your job entail and how has your role impacted cancer research?

My job entailed surgery. After training and practising in the UK, I also practised overseas deployed with the army. I am now retired after 45 years practise (graduated in 1963). My practise involved cancer and clinical research, as well as data correlation.

I love being able to inspire people with something I am passionate about


Name – Amy
Course studied – Pharmacology BSc (Hons)
Current job title – STEM Graduate Ambassador

What does your job entail and how has your role impacted cancer research?

My current role involves STEM Outreach, going into schools across the UK to deliver interactive workshops designed to increase the aspirations of pupils. I also arrange and support on various on-campus events, including World Cancer Day. I love the variety of my job, and being able to inspire people about something I am passionate about.

My undergraduate degree Pharmacology BSc (Hons) which I studied at Newcastle University. One of the highlights of this for me was that I was able to study a module from all of the Biomedical and Biomolecular Sciences in my first year, then could change degree programmes after this. This was particularly beneficial for me as I started on the route of Biochemistry, then realised during my first year that it was actually Pharmacology that sparked my interest. One of my highlights of the course was the vocational module that I studied in my final year– I was able to choose an area that I was really interested in to give me insight into what a career in this may involve. I chose Science Communication, and it confirmed my aspiration to work in Science Outreach.

I also undertook a laboratory project for 8 weeks in my final year. On this course, you are able to list a couple of areas you are really interested in, and you are then matched to a suitable project. My project looked at identifying proteins expressed in skin cancer, and relating this to which immunotherapy would be best for each mutation. I was able to work with world-leading experts on this, and it really consolidated my interest in cancer research. I also learn invaluable techniques and was able to use state of the art equipment to provide accurate results.

My research uses artificial intelligence to facilitate tumour recognition


Name – Wui
Course studied – Medicine
Current job title – Associate Professor in Diagnostic Radiology at University of Texas M D Anderson Cancer Centre

What does your job entail and how has your role impacted cancer research?

I trained in Diagnostic Radiology at Northwick Park Hospital and the Middlesex Hospital after graduation. I then moved to the United States to do an imaging fellowship at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. I was faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I am now in the division of Diagnostic Imaging at the University of Texas M D Anderson Cancer Center.

My job entails imaging of cancer for diagnosis and management with CT, ultrasound, MRI, PET and molecular imaging. My role has impacted cancer research as I was an investigator in clinical trials evaluating US contrast agents for characterization of liver and renal tumours. My current research is in ultrasound and molecular imaging agents, and using artificial intelligence to facilitate tumour recognition on radiological images.

I've spent 22 years working in the voluntary sector


Name – Janet
Course studied – History
Current job title – Fundraising Manager, North of England Children’s Cancer Research

What does your job entail and how has your role impacted cancer research?

I started to work as a volunteer for a local charity during the third year of my degree course. I didn't have a career path in mind but I knew I wanted to do something that might make a difference to people. I was offered a job at the charity I volunteered with while sitting my finals, accepted it and have gone on to spend 22 years working in the voluntary sector. During that time I have worked for a number of health related charities managing the delivery of community health projects, organising events and raising funds.
My current role is as Fundraising Manager for NECCR, a local charity raising funds for research carried out at the Wolfson Childhood Cancer Research Centre in Newcastle. I lead a small staff team delivering a range of fundraising events, including the Children's Cancer Run which attracts 9,000 runners annually, and supporting companies and individuals in their fundraising efforts. We work closely with members of the research team to offer open events and deliver activities within the community to help our supporters understand the difference their fundraising makes.

My role helps to ensure that NECCR continues to grow and develop as a local charity, thereby securing sufficient funds to offer an annual core grant of over £400,000 to the research team at the Wolfson Childhood Cancer Research Centre. I also help to share news and information about the work carried out within the centre and organise open events to bring together members of the research team with local people and companies. Support from NECCR helps the childhood cancer research team in Newcastle to attract larger grant income from other funding sources and has been instrumental in establishing the world-class facilities at the Wolfson Childhood Cancer Research Centre.

I have a keen interest in Women’s Health


Name – Gillian
Course studied – Medicine
Current job title – General Practitioner

What does your job entail and how has your role impacted cancer research?

Working day to day with a variety of patients, with a keen interest in Women’s Health. I am involved in cancer research as my practice is currently taking part in the National Cancer Audit. This is a database which we complete for each patient to help with cancer research.

My research focus has been on antibiotic resistance trends


Name – Matt
Course studied – Biology (BSc), Epidemiology (MRes)
Current job title – STEM Graduate Ambassador

What does your job entail and how has your role impacted cancer research?

My current job involves a large degree of science communication. In particular we focus on delivering a range of workshops in schools to assist with the curriculum of STEM subjects and to try and raise aspirations in the field. My research focus at university is Epidemiology, I recently completed my Master’s degree in this and I am applying for PhDs in the area currently.

Epidemiology is the study of incidence, distribution, and possible control of diseases and other factors relating to health. This sounds like a mouthful but it essentially boils down to describing who in the population has diseases, clarifying the important figures such as number of people per 100,000 who have the disease (prevalence), studying potential environmental and life course factors that contribute to disease and modelling and predicting disease spread to prevent epidemics and reduce the number of cases. It really is a very multi-disciplinary topic and it has strands reaching into almost all areas of medicine.

My own research focus has been on antibiotic resistance trends and the role of carriers in the wider disease burden of Group A Streptococcus. Although diseases like cancer are the main cause of unnatural death in the UK this is not the case globally. We have a very advanced medical system here in the UK and although it may not seem that way, a lot of cancers are considered rare diseases (less than 1 in 100,000 people). Infection is still the biggest cause of death worldwide and antibiotic resistance plays a huge part in this. Group A Streptococcus is responsible for a range of infections such as Tonsillitis in mild cases and septicaemia and necrotising fasciitis in severe cases. We found that there was a high degree of resistance in Streptococcus to alternative treatments for those who are allergic to penicillin. There has been very little change in the level of resistance seen over the last 12 years, and although levels have not increased, more needs to be done to reduce the number of resistant cases. We also found that asymptomatic carriers were significantly responsible for the spread of Group A Streptococcus within the population. These individuals don’t display symptoms so neither seek treatment nor alter their behaviour to avoid passing the infection on to others, this means they are a large reservoir for Streptococcus within the population but potentially an excellent target for vaccination. The current Job role will help my future in the field of research as one of the key problems within epidemiology is science communication and helping the public understand causes of illnesses.

Cancer epidemiology research has a huge part to play in the fight against cancer. Not only do large cohort studies provide insights into the number of cases of cancer and the trends over time, this is helping us monitor the effects of treatment on things like survival rate. Life course and environmental epidemiology has also lead to changes in public behaviour for the better. A classic example of cancer epidemiology is the link between smoking and lung cancer, many studies like this exist and some really are tenuous and need to be taken with a pinch of salt. However, more and more lifestyle factors are being linked to increasing your chances of a cancer and some of them have been revolutionary for reducing certain types. Poor diet and obesity are linked with both bowel and stomach cancer, whilst smoking is linked with lung, oral and bowel cancer. These are both things that the general population can massively alter by changes in their own behaviour, reducing both their risk of cancer but also another diseases such as coronary heart disease and in the process reducing burden on the NHS.

It was the best decision for my career to stay in Newcastle


Name – Sarra
Course studied – Pharmacology BSc, Cancer Research PhD
Current job title – Research Fellow

What does your job entail and how has your role impacted cancer research?

Newcastle University's Medical School is one of the leading higher education providers and the Pharmacology degree had an excellent reputation with flexibility in some modules which were key motivations for my decision. Of equal importance to me, Newcastle had a vibrant culture and great atmosphere that is very welcoming to students. My undergraduate study experience was excellent and combined with the world-leading research that is conducted here and outstanding healthcare system that is provided, I was left with no doubt that I wanted to pursue my postgraduate studies at Newcastle University.

During my undergraduate studies, it became clear to me that I wanted to be involved in cancer research. I started to enquire about PhD studentships towards the end of my undergraduate study and made contact with a few principal investigator's (PI's) within FMS at Newcastle University who were very supportive. After a one year break, I successfully applied for a PhD to study within the Paul O’Gorman Building. During the 4 year of PhD study, I had a great experience and was involved in every aspect of research from attending national and international meetings to developing research ideas and learning the methods and skills required to investigate the idea. This experience greatly improved my understanding and interest in cancer development and treatment.

My first research associate position was working within a different cancer research area at Newcastle University; it was the best decision for my career to stay in Newcastle as the group were world-leaders in their field. The post allowed me to travel to the laboratories of international and national collaborators to develop my expertise further. During this time (including two career breaks through which I had fantastic support), I gained independence and expertise in a research area that has developed in to a niche area for me.

As a recent Research Fellow funded by Cancer Research UK (CRUK), I have been able to follow my research interests and develop my own career in a field that is a priority for healthcare around the world. I really enjoy working in academia and research; every day is different and there are plenty of opportunities for the development of ideas and skills. As an early-career Research Fellow, I am in the early phase of developing my own research group. The key objective is to make sure I meet the major milestones established for the grant through the successful management of staff, planning of experiments, organisation of schedules and having the vision to ensure short- and long-term research goals are achieved.

In addition to conducting and planning research experiments with colleagues and students, I have had to improve my knowledge and develop skills in a broad range of other areas; 1) people management skills and employment related issues to supervise staff employed on my grants, 2) manage and supervise the financial expenditure of my grants, 3) provide student training through lab-based projects (8 weeks to 6 months) or seminars, 4) ensure appropriate ethical consent, health and safety documentation and equipment training is provided and 5) presentation of research results to colleagues, collaborators, students and members of the public. Hence each week is currently spent training, supervising and managing, performing laboratory work and analysing and preparing results to share with colleagues.

My research has been translational which means that anything discovered in the laboratory has the potential to improve the clinical management and treatment of patients. For example, the main finding from my PhD influenced UK treatment stratification procedures and biomarker-driven pan-European clinical trials for the childhood cancer, medulloblastoma. My interest in translational research continued as a research associate and during this time, I have been involved in projects that have helped to improve the diagnosis of leukaemia patients with high-risk disease so that they can received targeted or more intensive therapies in the clinic.

I decided I would like to heighten my specialist education with an MPhil


Name – Kayleigh
Course studied – MPhil Cancer
Current job title – Specialist Biomedical Scientist

What does your job entail and how has your role impacted cancer research?

I chose to study MPhil Cancer as I was ready for a career boost; I had worked as a registered biomedical scientist in haematology & transfusion science for just under 3 years when I decided to apply. I spoke to the postgraduate Associate Dean at the time and was given some fantastic advice – if you’re going to pay for higher education make sure you do something you’re really passionate about.

The Northern Centre for Cancer Care is based at the Freeman hospital, where I was working at the time. Reviewing and acting on blood results and issuing blood products to this patient demographic really motivated me to want to achieve more in the massive field of cancer research.

My undergraduate degree was in Applied Biology, which encompassed everything from invertebrate physiology to biotechnology. After graduating in 2011, motivated by a desire to help people, I decided I wanted to become a biomedical scientist, which involved completing accredited top-up modules and completion of a placement in an accredited healthcare laboratory. Once I had managed these I secured a job at the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in 2013 as a registered biomedical scientist in haematology and transfusion science.

After initial training and working as part of a 24-hour shift rota for almost 3 years, I decided I would like to heighten my specialist education with an MPhil (this appealed more than an MRes as it was essentially a full-time job, with a lot of laboratory time, research meetings, presentations and problem-solving). I studied under Professor Julie Irving on a thesis entitled Functional Analyses of Minimal Residual Disease in Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia using Mass Cytometry. The programme was incredibly fascinating and in-depth and allowed me to work alongside some fantastic people. Achieving my MPhil helped me to later move to a more specialised laboratory at the Royal Victoria Infirmary.

My current role at the RVI is part of the NEHODS flow cytometry team – the Northern England Haemato-Oncology Diagnostic Service, which encompasses the North East and Cumbria in leukaemia and lymphoma diagnostics. Via flow cytometry, we are able to detect pathological clones of blood cells in samples sent in from around the region. Our NEHODS flow cytometry lab works in conjunction with genetic/molecular/cellular pathology work and dedicated clinicians to provide a packaged diagnostic service internally and to referring Trusts. The rapidity of flow cytometry results also enables appropriate treatment to be initiated by clinicians as soon as possible.

Alongside NEHODS, the flow cytometry lab also caters for specialised immunodeficiency work and less urgent haematology work. My current role is cancer diagnostics as opposed to cancer research, however, NEHODS operates hand-in-hand with haematology consultants, clinical scientists and advanced biomedical scientists, who guide its practice. Statistics are readily retrievable due to the high throughput of sample material. Our antibody panels are redesigned when relevant publications indicate there may be a benefit to the patient or service. Additionally, anonymised samples from internal patients are often used in Newcastle University’s cancer research groups where consent is provided. Such samples were used as part of my MPhil project, the result of which is still being investigated more vigorously by a post-Doctoral team.


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