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Building a career in brain tumour research: Dr Noor Gammoh

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by Cancer Research UK | Research Feature

14 November 2017

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Dr Noor Gammoh

Noor holds a CRUK Career Development Fellowship. She completed her postdoc at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre in New York, before moving to the UK in June 2014 to further her cutting-edge work in understanding brain tumours at the University of Edinburgh. She’s extremely positive about the move, and the doors it has opened for her research career.

“When considering career options, the UK seemed to stand out as having a concentration of universities and institutions dedicated to supporting early career scientists. There also seemed to be strong support and dedicated funding for cancer research with particular emphasis on cancers of unmet need.

My interest in brain tumours, particular glioblastoma, began as a postdoc during my time at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre. I started thinking about how I can integrate my benchtop molecular research into brain tumours by using potent models developed by other groups. With this idea in mind, I started applying for jobs.

I applied to the University of Edinburgh, which just seemed to be the perfect environment for me to develop my work in glioblastoma. The concentration in one location of expertise on various aspects of brain tumours is so important, and the availability of clinical samples also opens up many opportunities.

I see the move to the UK as being really pivotal to my career development. I would say to anyone considering their career options, to be bold and creative. Moving countries might seem an extra challenge but I am so glad I gave it a shot, and am excited about where my career is now heading.

Once I had the position at Edinburgh, I applied for the Career Development Fellowship. I knew that Cancer Research UK had a prestigious research community I would benefit from being part of. Seeing the level of research funded by the charity, and their vision, encouraged me to apply. The Fellowship means I have the security of six years to start building a lab and focus on my research ideas.


Getting to grips with glioblastoma

“The key aspect when you enter a new field is to make sure you establish the right connections and collaborations. You need make sure you’re up to speed and not reinventing the wheel.

In terms of career development, the mentoring and networking is quite crucial, especially when setting up new systems and developing a research team. In less than a year I have already been to meetings and had the chance to network with senior scientists from across the country through CRUK events. It makes such a difference to be part of an established community with people you can bounce ideas off or get technical advice from.

CRUK is not just about the funding, they provide support to a completely different level, and the community you become part of goes far beyond the role of a normal funder.

Along with my funding, I have been partnered with a mentor who provides invaluable support and advice, such as helping me set up my lab, recruit, lead a research team and manage finances. Being part of the Women of Influence mentoring programme has been really useful for me to develop my skills and confidence as a group leader

One of the most striking characteristics about the UK for me has been the collaborative nature of the research community. CRUK has helped to put me in touch with brain tumour researchers around the UK, not just at Edinburgh. The ethos here is about open doors and bringing different disciplines together, which takes your research to a different level.


Exciting times for brain tumour research

“Obviously what we all desperately hope for is to be able to make a difference in the outcome of the cancers we work on. But therapeutic strategies for brain tumours haven’t changed much for decades, and nor have the outcomes for patients.

One development that is exciting us in the field is how much we’re learning generally in cancer research about how the disease is highly context specific. We can’t generalise all cancers, or even cancers of one type. Different subtypes in the same cancer behave differently, and that raises challenges for those of us who are seeking new treatments and for personalised treatment approaches.

But as we are making leaps in our understanding of cancer driver pathways, the hope is that we will be able to make a clinical difference for cancers of unmet need as has been done for other currently treatable cancers. The current advances in research are hopefully taking us closer.”


Profile: Dr Noor Gammoh

Noor moved to the University of Edinburgh in 2013 with a Chancellor’s Fellowship, and began her CRUK Career Development Fellowship in 2017.

She completed her PhD investigating HPV-encoded proteins in oncogenesis with Dr Lawrence Banks at ICGEB Trieste, Italy, and postdoctoral research on the molecular biology of autophagy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York.

Noor’s website