‘From bench to bedside – is personalised medicine the future?’ The CSC Chain-Florey Fellows invited leading experts to have their say
The MRC Clinical Sciences Centre’s Chain-Florey Fellows met at the annual workshop last Thursday (13 November) to present their research to an audience of medical experts and take part in the lively discussions that followed.
The three most senior Chain-Florey Fellows – Allifia Abbas Newsholme, Philip Webster and Andrew Innes – gave fascinating talks that reflected the high quality basic science training that they received on the three-year fellowship.
Allifia Abbas Newsholme, who is close to completing the fellowship with Amanda Fisher’s Lymphocyte Development Group, kicked off the Chain-Florey presentations with a talk on ‘Non-invasive imaging of imprinted gene expression’. She is working to devise a system to image changes in the expression of the CDKNIC gene. Mutations in this gene cause Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, which is characterised by an increased risk of tumour formation.
Philip Webster, who has completed his PhD with Anthony Uren’s Cancer Genomics Group, presented his research on the genetics and kinetics of BCL2 driven lymphoid malignancies. BCL2 is a gene involved in preventing programmed cell death, known as apoptosis. If the gene is overexpressed it prevents apoptosis and cells remain alive for too long, leading to cancers and autoimmune diseases. By identifying genes that are commonly mutated with BCL2, Phil could alter their expression in lymphoma cells to investigate the role they play in the development of lymphoma – a cancer of white blood cells. Phil is currently renal registrar at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and intends to pursue an academic career path.
Andrew Innes has almost completed the fellowship with Jesús Gil’s Cell Proliferation Group. His research looked into the genes that control senescence in the natural ageing process. ‘Senescence is well known for its role in controlling cancers, but its role in fibrotic disorders is less well understood,’ he says. ‘I’m interested in post-transplant fibrotic disease, specifically Graft Versus Host Disease (DVHD). There’s a lot of evidence that this mimics autoimmune disease, but there is also evidence that could link it to senescence.’
Their talks were followed by a riveting panel discussion on the future of personalized medicine. The panelists agreed that sequencing personal genotypes was helping define – and would continue to define – new drug treatments for a diversity of diseases. There was also general agreement on the greatest challenge: genomics can’t lead the way without population-wide phenotypic data, which is currently lacking.
The afternoon ended with a keynote speech from Dr Peter Campbell, Head of Cancer Genetics and Genomics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, on ‘the vast somatic mutational landscape of cancers’, with particular reference to the molecular pathology of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML). Genome sequencing of AML patients has identified a number of driver genes – somatic mutations that contribute to a tumour’s progression – that clinicians could potentially use to predict which patients should receive a bone marrow transplant. However, there are a number of unexpected difficulties, one of which is the diversity of driver genes seen in each patient’s genome.
The CSC’s Chain-Florey Clinical Research Fellowships offer medical graduates the opportunity to complete PhDs in basic science at the CSC. Clinically trained Fellows develop a unique appreciation of the practical application of treatments and bring a valuable perspective to science research. Since the scheme’s inception in 2009, 17 Fellowships have been awarded and graduates have emerged ready to tackle clinical research questions with scientific precision. The scheme is jointly funded by the MRC and NIHR through the Imperial BRC.
The Fellowship is named in celebration of the great collaboration between Howard Florey, a clinically trained pathologist, and Ernst Chain, a biochemist, who shared the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Alexander Fleming for th eir work in discovering, developing and producing the first antibiotic: penicillin.
To read more about the scheme, its sponsors and advocates, current and previous Fellows, please download the 2014 Chain Florey Fellowship brochure here.
The experts on the panel included:
Dr Peter Campbell – Head of Cancer Genetics and Genomics at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and joint head of the Cancer Genome Project.
Professor Irene Roberts – Head of the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology Group at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine.
Dr Anne-Marie Coriat – Director of Capacity Skills and Infrastructure at the MRC.
Dr Sohaila Rastan – President and Chief Executive Officer at Ceros Limited and Chief Scientific Advisor of the RNID.
Professor Jonathan Weber – Director of Research at Imperial NIHR Biomedical Research Centre.
Dr Jeremy Griggs – Biology Leader and Biologist in the Discovery Partnerships with Academia team at GlaxoSmithKline.
Professor Ian Hall – Dean of the Medical School, Director of Clinical Research for the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and a Co-Director of the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Experimental Therapeutics (IPSET) at the University of Nottingham.
Dr Helen Bodmer – Head of the MRC and Health Research Team, Research Funding Unit and Department for Business Innovation & Skills.
Professor Jeremy Pearson – Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation
Professor Gavin Screaton –Vice Dean, Chair in Medicine at Imperial College.