Roger Ekins Fellow
I came to Cambridge in a rather convoluted way, beginning my working life in hospitality after dropping out of 6th Form, because Drama and Classics A Levels unfortunately couldn’t pay the bills. I worked my way up to managing my own pub in Manchester in my 20s and although a lot of fun, I decided that I should see what all the university fuss was about (wine may have been involved!). After being told by the University of Manchester that their access course was far too academically rigorous for someone with my CV, I was welcomed with open arms at the wonderful University of Salford to study Biological Sciences. I got hooked on biochemistry in my first year and was lucky enough to spend my penultimate year at AstraZeneca which is where I found a passion for automation and translation oncology. I met a girl on the bus in my final year who knew a Professor at the University of Manchester who was after someone with my skill set to work on Glioblastoma, an incurable adult brain tumour, and so I forgave Manchester, and allowed them to give me PhD.After three years of adult brain tumour research, I decided that I just wasn’t depressing people enough at parties, so I reached out to Professor Richard Gilbertson at CRUK Cambridge Institute to continue my academic career in paediatric brain tumour research, where I am today.
Away from the lab, I am engaged in teaching, both as an undergraduate supervisor and, more practically, in the lab with my amazing graduate students, or you might find me paddleboarding down the Cam on the weekend with my pup
My current research focuses on Medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumour in children. Detailed analyses of gene expression patterns in these tumours, coupled with studies of their response to treatment, has revealed four main disease subgroups. I study one of these subgroups, known as WNT-activated medulloblastoma and how we can diagnose it in a less invasive way and treat it in a way that is less harmful to the patient than the current standard of-care.
WNT-medulloblastoma has a 5-year survival rate of ~90%; however, this cure comes at enormous cost to the child. The aggressive surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy can cause long-term side effects that can devastate each survivor’s quality of life. My research over the next three years aims to design novel tumour-specific probes which will allow us to not only treat these children in a less harmful way, but to diagnose these tumours non-invasively. To design these probes, we need to get an idea of the most plentiful receptors, or targets, on the surface of the tumour compared to normal cells. To do this I am using a method of mapping the surface proteins on tumour cells which allows us to design labelled antibodies that bind to these cancer-specific receptors and avoid healthy ones.