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Unlocking potential to accelerate brain tumour research

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by Cancer Research UK | Research Feature

25 January 2017

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GFP-labelled tumour cells invading normal brain along blood vessels

Dr Simona Parrinello, based in the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre at Imperial College London, is using funding from our Programme Foundation Award to explore new avenues for her research and realise her ambition to focus on glioblastoma– an area of strategic priority for Cancer Research UK.

Support for career development and capacity building

Simona’s work on glioblastoma focuses on identifying the mechanism underlying tumour spread, to help identify potential new targets for improving therapeutic efficacy. With an established team at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre, the Programme Foundation Award – introduced in 2015 to support exceptional individuals at her career stage – has allowed her to double the size of her team and significantly increase the resources available to them.

The Programme Foundation Award allows me to build upon the current strengths of my lab team and consolidate the group to transition to the next stage of my independent career.  Without the CRUK funding, our cancer work would not continue.

Building capacity to tackle a cancer of unmet need

As a stem cell biologist, Simona is also carrying out work on neural stem cells and their regulation during adult neurogenesis. She is using insight from this work to develop her understanding of glioblastoma.

Glioblastoma is closely related to neurogenesis because brain tumours contain stem-like cells, which share many properties with their normal stem cell counterparts. Work from other groups, has demonstrated that normal stem cells can, in some cases, be cells of origin in brain tumours. Understanding the mechanisms for normal stem cell behaviour, and how this is deregulated in glioblastoma, will increase our understanding of both healthy and disease systems.

Simona recognised that CRUK’s decision to highlight brain tumour research as a priority presented an opportunity for her team and the funding from the Programme Foundation Award allowed her to realise this potential. She is optimistic that her research can improve our basic understanding of glioblastoma, helping to accelerate progress and improve treatments.

Working within a collaborative community

The cross-disciplinary nature of Simona’s research reflects an active and collaborative research community which has helped her transition into the brain tumour field.

My experience with the UK glioblastoma community has been very positive, everyone I met has been welcoming, collaborative and very generous with sharing reagents and resources.

Advice for future applicants: anticipate questions you might get asked

Our Programme Foundation Awards support a wide portfolio of research that includes a range of disease sites and model systems that could transform our understanding of cancer biology. Simona understood that her application, and interview for the award, had to address the broader value of her research, as well as identifying the potential caveats of her experimental plans so she could come up with solutions. This is highlighted in her advice for future applicants:

Prepare well for the interview and try to anticipate the questions you might get asked. I had a mock interview with my colleagues, which helped massively to focus my presentation and highlight potential weaknesses.

Reflecting on the whole process for applying, Simona was complementary about the experience:

CRUK staff are incredibly supportive and they are there for you at every step of the way so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

The Programme Foundation Award has two deadlines throughout year, the next deadline is 21 February 2017. Look at our website for more information and get in touch with the Research Funding Manager to discuss your idea.