Non-clinical PhD student profile - Catherine Dabrowska 2017 cohort

Catherine Dabrowska, who started her PhD research project in 2017 explains her research and why she applied to the CRUK Cambridge Centre for a non-clinical studentship...

What is your research project all about and what impact could it have on the way we understand, detect or treat cancer?

My project aims to decipher the very earliest stages of lung cancer, with focus on stem cell behaviour. With classical and modified lineage tracing techniques, we are studying how normal stem cell and ‘cancer stem cell’ clones interact. By teaming up with members from Professor Ben Simons’ laboratory, we will be able to model these clonal dynamics, giving us an insight into the beginning of cancer in the lung. With this data, we hope to contribute to understanding cancer from a different perspective and also the earlier detection of lung cancer.

What were you doing before you started your PhD?

I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Birmingham and came to Cambridge in 2016 to work as a Research Assistant for Dr Bon-Kyoung Koo and then also for Dr Joo-Hyeon Lee. I really enjoyed the role and learnt so much from both PIs, so I decided to apply for a PhD with Dr Joo-Hyeon Lee.

Why are you interested in cancer and what do you see yourself doing after your PhD?

Cancer is an incredibly complex disease, with so much published research under the scrutiny of intense debate and also so much left unknown, the challenge of understanding it is compelling. For any cancer researcher there is also the extra motivation in that the basic research you produce could one day contribute to the development of a clinically approved anti-cancer therapy. After my PhD, I want to maintain a career in academia in the study of stem cells and regenerative medicine.

Why did you want to study in Cambridge?

There is a really strong interdisciplinary approach in Cambridge and therefore increased opportunities to learn more outside of the traditional biological PhD skillset. The Stem Cell Institute, in which I am based, includes many who are world-leaders in their field and learning from them is a real privilege and groups are very collaborative.

What are the best, and worst, things about being a PhD student here?

One of the best qualities of undertaking a PhD in Cambridge is the amount of world-leading research that you are immersed in and have the opportunity to learn about. There are always fascinating talks both in your field and outside of it – it’s impossible to go to them all.

The worst – as it has a reputation for, Cambridge is a bubble and has quite a small town feel to it!

Catherine's supervisor is Dr Joo-Hyeon Lee and she is a member of the Aerodigestive cancers programme.