My mother, Gertrude, was also born in South Africa, in Johannesburg to parents who had emigrated from Czechoslovakia.
Medical Research Council My palms are sweaty and my mouth is dry, but it's more excitement than nerves, though of course the nerves are there, too.
I've got my cells out of the incubator and now I just can't resist having a quick glance at them down the microscope — will I see more dead cells floating in one set than the other? I know I can't tell properly till I add some staining solution and analyse them accurately, but that will take hours and I just can't wait that long to find out: If you've ever held that envelope of exam results and been desperate to tear them open and find out how you did, but also terrified to look in case you didn't get what you were hoping for, then you'll know exactly the sort of feelings I'm talking about.
I'm working on tumour cells from two childhood cancers, called neuroblastoma and Ewing's sarcoma. These are both very hard to treat, with less than half the children surviving for five years after their diagnosis. That's the problem with treating cancer: At the moment, it's often a case of trial and error working out which drug is going work — and some people simply run out of time before we can find the right one.
So what I'm trying to find out is what causes the differences in responses and how can we use that to our advantage. The drug I'm using is called fenretinide, and it's similar to vitamin A the vitamin found in carrots. It's able to kill cancer cells, while normal cells remain healthy.
It works by causing a build-up of oxidants in the cells you'll all probably have seen the adverts for beauty creams offering anti-oxidant properties to get glowing skin — that's because oxidants are bad news for cells!
Normal, healthy cells should be able to cope with the presence of a few oxidants, but cancer cells will already be exposed to high levels as they're produced when cells divide, and so they can't cope with the extra oxidants produced from fenretinide treatment.
Due to its similarity to vitamin A, fenretinide can get into receptors meant for that vitamin and so the main side effect with fenretinide treatment is that the patients get what's called night-blindness; basically, you can't see very well in the dark. This makes it particularly suitable for treating childhood cancers as it's a much easier side effect to deal with than many other treatments — it's easier to give a five-year-old a night light than to comfort them as they're losing their hair.
The problem is that fenretinide seems to work really well for some neuroblastoma and Ewing's sarcoma tumours, but not others. And I want to know why! I've found that some of the tumours have more of an enzyme called CYP26 than others, and this enzyme helps to metabolise fenretinide in the body.
Usually, you'd expect the patients to do worse if their body is breaking down the drug, but fenretinide is a little different. As well as the drug itself being able to kill cancer cells what we call an "active" compoundone of the metabolites of fenretinide is also active.
This means there could be an extra hit from this second compound to those cancer cells where there is metabolism occurring. This is the reason I'm desperately hoping to see more dead cells in some of my flasks than others — these should hopefully be the cells with more CYP So what would it mean if I'm right about the link between CYP26 and how many cancer cells die?
There are a few options, actually — we could be selective and only give the drug to those whose cancer has been tested and shown to have CYP26, or there are other drugs that have been shown to increase concentrations of CYP26 in the body, so alternatively these could be used in combination with fenretinide.
The important point is that we could decide on which drug or combination of drugs to use based on what should work for each particular patient, and that's what this is all about — taking the guesswork out of cancer treatment.
I've already analysed these cells to see how much CYP26 they have, and then I've added the drug and left them to grow for a few days having a quick peek every day to see how they're getting on.
Now it's the moment of truth, as I look down the microscope and bring the cells into focus The prize The Max Perutz Science Writing Award, now in its 13th year, encourages young Medical Research Council scientists to communicate their research to a wider audience.
The competition is open to all MRC-funded PhD students and asks them to describe the importance and excitement of their research.
The award received a record number of submissions, with entries.Incredibly proud of @AlbersGesa shortlisted for the Max Perutz Science writing award !!! Immensely proud of our PhD student @AlbersGesa shortlisted for this year's Max Perutz Science Writing award, writing about immune cells in asthma!
Alice Ball - Born in - Chemist Professor of Chemistry at the University of Hawaii. The latest Tweets from Science Grrl (@Science_Grrl). A network celebrating & supporting women in science: local connections with a national voice.
Because STEM is for everyone. Everywhere in the UK. Our Max Perutz Science Writing Award is now in its sixteenth year. Here some of the previous winners recall their motivations for entering, provide tips for .
Studentships. We support around 1, PhD students at any one time. Funding for both PhD and Masters studentships is provided to research organisations, such as universities and MRC units, institutes and centres, who select outstanding candidates for projects with leading grupobittia.com do not fund students directly, so prospective students should contact the institution at which they wish to.
Max Perutz Science Writing Award. The Max Perutz Science Writing Award aims to support the career development of our current MRC PhD students, helping them build their skills to become tomorrow’s leaders in discovery science. "Oxford University researcher Elizabeth Braithwaite, from the Department of Psychiatry at Warneford Hospital, was among 11 finalists from applicants in the Medical Research Council’s Max Perutz Science Writing Award.
She was shortlisted for her article about research she is undertaking into.