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AACR–CRUK Transatlantic Fellowships awarded to 4 exceptional early-career researchers

by Lorenzo de la Rica | Research Feature

19 May 2020

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The first-ever recipients of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)–Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Transatlantic Fellowships will be awarded £300,000/$400,000 over 4 years to establish their own postdoctoral research programme at world-leading research institutions in the UK and US. Despite the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which delayed the start of their fellowships, they remain motivated to begin working on their new research projects as soon as that becomes possible.

Our new fellows were selected from among the most promising PhD students and junior postdocs in cancer research in the UK and US. The fellowships will give them a unique opportunity to accelerate their careers on the other side of the Atlantic, enabling them to broaden their research horizons and embrace a level of independence beyond that of their peers.

Alejandro Jiménez-Sánchez, the bioinformatician on a mission to improve immunotherapy

  Host institution    Supervisor
PhD Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, Cambridge, UK   Martin Miller 
AACR–CRUK Transatlantic Fellowship Sloan Kettering Institute, NYC, US and the Francis Crick Institute, London, UK  Dana Pe’er and Charles Swanton 


Alejandro will be analysing single-cell genomic data to try to improve response to treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors in advanced metastatic tumours. He’s aiming to enhance immunotherapy by characterising tumour response in patients with lung and pancreatic cancer undergoing combined therapy with senescence-inducing drugs and anti-PD1 immunotherapy.

During his time at the Sloan Kettering Institute, Alejandro will work with Dana Pe’er, a single-cell genomics and computational systems biology expert. He’ll also collaborate with Charles Swanton at the Francis Crick Institute, who is a world leader in tumour evolutionary dynamics.
This fellowship will allow me to bring together the expertise of two world leaders in cancer research into this exciting project and it will be critical for my scientific development towards independence.
Where is Alejandro now? Alejandro’s new lab has closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the collection and sequencing of tumour samples has stopped. Alejandro is working from home in New York, processing and analysing existing sequencing data. This is allowing him to do a deeper analysis of the data and generate hypotheses that can be swiftly tested once labs reopen. 

Geylani Can, the DNA replication scientist searching for new anti-cancer therapy targets

  Host institution Supervisor
PhD The Gurdon Institute, Cambridge, UK Philip Zegerman
AACR–CRUK Transatlantic Fellowship Harvard Medical School, Boston, US and the Francis Crick Institute, London, UK Johannes Walter and Stephen West


Geylani aims to uncover new factors that regulate the replication of ‘difficult-to-replicate’ loci, such as common fragile sites, which are among the most frequently rearranged genomic loci in cancer genomes. By elucidating the regulation of DNA replication in mitosis, Geylani hopes to reveal new targets for anti-cancer therapies. 

Geylani will work with Johannes Walter at Harvard Medical School and Stephen West at the Francis Crick Institute, both pioneers in the fields of DNA replication and repair. 
The AACR–CRUK Transatlantic Fellowship will be of tremendous help in realising my ambitions at this early stage of my career. I feel very grateful to have been awarded this prestigious fellowship. I’m looking forward to the opportunities that it will open up for me.
Where is Geylani now? Geylani felt he needed to use his scientific knowledge to help mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. He is applying a method he developed during his PhD in Cambridge to the diagnosis of COVID-19, and has been granted special permission by Harvard Medical School to undertake this research despite the lockdown. The test is now ready to be validated with patient samples, which Geylani will do in collaboration with a group at Berkeley University. Geylani will start working on his AACR–CRUK Transatlantic Fellowship project immediately after the official lockdown is over. 

Hadley Sheppard, the geneticist taking on a notoriously hard-to-treat cancer

  Host institution Supervisor
PhD Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, US                                     Charles Y. Lin
AACR–CRUK Transatlantic
The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, UK Paul Workman             


Hadley will focus on drugging transcription factors in chordoma, a rare cancer that is notoriously difficult to treat. Discoveries generated by her research programme could spark new approaches to tackle this challenging disease. 

Hadley has identified leading UK experts to help accelerate her research: she will team up with Paul Workman, a world leader in translational science and pharmacology, and Louis Chesler, who will help test pre-clinical and clinical compounds in mouse models. Hadley will also collaborate with Opher Gileadi at the University of Oxford and Adrienne Flannagan at University College London.
I am thrilled to receive this fellowship as it enables me to work in Paul Workman’s lab at the Institute of Cancer Research. With this funding, I will conduct impactful chordoma research that will directly benefit patients with chordoma while enhancing a collaborative chordoma UK research network.
Where is Hadley now? The start of Hadley’s AACR–CRUK Transatlantic Fellowship has been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She expects to move to the UK in mid-July and join the ICR in August. She is finishing a paper from her PhD research and she has also begun to attend meetings with her new colleagues at the ICR and her collaborators from the Structural Genomics Consortium in Oxford and the Chordoma Foundation.

Justin (Ching Ting) Loke, the clinician scientist pursuing transformative treatments for people with acute myeloid leukaemia

  Host institution Supervisor
PhD University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK Constanze Bonifer
AACR–CRUK Transatlantic Fellowship Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Broad Institute, Boston, US                  Benjamin Ebert                       


Justin is a clinician scientist specialised in haematology. He will use acute myeloid leukemia (AML) samples from patients with two commonly mutated genes, ASXL1 and RUNX1 to understand how they contribute to disease relapse.

At the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute, Justin will be embedded in Benjamin Ebert’s group, who are well known for advancing the understanding and treatment of haematologic disorders.  Justin will also collaborate with the CRUK Manchester Institute, where he will have access to a unique collection of sequential patient samples.
This fellowship is vital to my development as a clinician scientist with an aim to develop transformative strategies to help patients with AML. This funding scheme is unique in enabling this transatlantic collaboration, which will accelerate research in a number of haemato-oncology research centres internationally.
Where is Justin now? Justin returned to full-time NHS service at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham to support the increased number of patients with COVID-19. This has delayed the start of his AACR–CRUK Transatlantic Fellowship. With the CRUK Clinical Trials Unit in Birmingham and the Cure Leukaemia Trial Acceleration Programme, he has contributed to the development of a prospective study (PACE trial) to understand the impact of infections, especially COVID-19, in patients with AML.

Unfortunately, the 2020 round of the AACR–CRUK Transatlantic Fellowships had to be cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Please check the scheme page for updates regarding future rounds.