Programme News

Centre members present research at the UK-Israel Hemato-Oncology 2018 Dotan International Symposium

23 November 2018

On the 19th of November, the UK-Israel and the Dotan Center International Symposium 'Advances in Research of Haematological Malignancies' was held at the Felsenstein Medical Research Center on the Rabin-Schneider Medical Campus in Israel. There were four sessions throughout the day focusing on the latest research in the field, which included Programme member Dr KJ Patel, from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, presenting research on why bone marrow fails in Fanconi anemia. Further lectures were given by members of the Haematological Malignancies Programme, Professor Bertie Gottgens and co-programme lead Professor Brian Huntly, with the Plenary Lecture delivered by co-programme lead Professor Tony Green.

The symposium attendees are pictured with Mr David Quarrey, British Ambassador to Israel (centre).

Family fun at the Film Festival

30 October 2018

Presented by the Cambridge Film Trust and now in its 38th year, the Cambridge Film Festival celebrates cinematography, past, present and future, to relive previous glories, share what’s happening in film today, and reveal the upcoming talents that will shape the future of cinema. In partnership with Cambridge Assessment, the Family Film Festival strand at the Arts Picturehouse delivers films in a friendly environment to give families plenty of opportunities to get involved in the Festival.

On Sunday 28th October, our Programme and the Department of Biochemistry joined the Family Film Festival for their family-themed short films with hands-on activities based around DNA; the molecule of inheritance. Throughout the morning, young film lovers took on the role of a scientist to extract DNA from strawberries, learn about genes, and create their own mutatable double-stranded DNA bracelets to find out how mutations can lead to cancer.

We would like to thank the Festival organisers for giving us the opportunity to take part in an extremely enjoyable day, our volunteers for making our activities possible, and everyone who came out to visit us!

DNA at the Cherry Hinton Festival

3 October 2018

On Saturday 22nd September, in collaboration with the Department of Biochemistry, our Programme ran two activities for the Cherry Hinton Festival in Cambridge; a DNA extraction from strawberries and a crafts activity to produce double-stranded DNA bracelets. Through these, our aim was to introduce Festival goers to the fundamentals of DNA biology, from the base pairing rules of A-T and C-G to the roles of mutations, tumour suppressor proteins and oncogenes in cancer.

"This is dead cool!" said a highly enthusiastic future scientist on watching DNA precipitate following addition of alcohol to the extraction solution, whilst a parent commented that it's "great that CRUK expose children to science at a young age", adding that they were "amazed" at how much DNA we have inside each of our cells (around 2 meters).

The Festival Day was an extremely enjoyable occasion and a fantastic success, despite the wind and rain, with around 4,000 people from all age groups attending and over 900 guests taking part in our activities. We would like to thank the organisers for inviting us to exhibit, our volunteers for their hard work, and also everyone who visited our stalls to learn about DNA and take part in some fun(damental) science!

'(A)-tail' of Eleanor Sheekey's summer in the Passmore lab

1 October 2018

It may have been one of the hottest summers on record, but my summer remained cool (and at times < -150 °C) whilst I carried out a research project in the air-conditioned and well-equipped MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. Alongside my supervisor, Dr Juan Rodríguez, a postdoc in Dr Lori Passmore's lab, I joined their investigation into the function and interactions made by a very important protein complex, the Cleavage and Polyadenylation Factor (CPF).

CPF modifies RNA, an intermediate molecule during the decoding of DNA to protein, by adding a string of adenosines (A) forming a poly(A) tail. Before adding the tail, CPF cleaves RNA, hence the cleavage part of CPF. During my project, I focused on the components of CPF involved in cleaving RNA and how they might be regulated. My experiments allowed me to use a variety of genetic, biochemical and structural biology techniques from flash-freezing cells in liquid nitrogen, protein purification to growing protein crystals, and preparing libraries for next-generation sequencing.

All in all, I had a great summer and am very grateful to the MRC for funding the project and to the lab, for providing the perfect blend of mentoring and entertainment. I have gained much more lab confidence and am now excited to further pursue my career in scientific research!

Eleanor is an undergraduate student reading Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge. She is about to begin her fourth year, which includes a research project in the laboratory of Professor Jussi Taipale in the Department of Biochemistry.

UK-Japan Young Scientists Workshop

2 August 2018

Last week, Dr Rhys Grant from our Programme collaborated with Dr Sio Ball and Dr Rita Monson from the Department of Biochemistry to run a summer project for students taking part in the Clifton Scientific Trust's UK-Japan Young Scientists Workshop.

The project, Bacterial Phenotypes in the Local Environment, saw A-level students from the UK and Japan working together to characterise bacteria isolated from the Downing Site in the centre of Cambridge. Students first had to find their bacteria, taking swabs from anywhere and everywhere outside the Department of Biochemistry, which were then cultured overnight across a range of media to ensure growth and a variety of traits for analysis. The following morning, once the students had been thoroughly disgusted at the sight of the samples grown, particularly by those which came from the River Cam (pictured), the bacteria were assayed for innate antibiotic resistance, antibiotic production, and quorum sensing (the process through which bacteria 'talk' to one another). Additionally, a selection of the colonies were analysed by gram staining and microscopy to differentiate samples based on the chemical and physical properties of their cell walls. The students worked extremely hard and, as a class, over 1,000 data points were obtained after just 2.5 days in the lab!

To end their week in Cambridge, the students presented their results to their peers, project facilitators, scientists, and a number of distinguished guests including the President of Barclays Bank Japan, the Chief Executive of the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, and a former Director of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, at the Workshop Presentation Day at Murray Edwards College.

The students did exceptionally well throughout the week; learning to communicate across language and cultural barriers, picking up second year undergraduate-level scientific knowledge and practical skills almost instantaneously, and delivering a presentation with the clarity and confidence of professionals. We hope this is the beginning of some fantastic future careers in science for these students and wish them all the best for their future studies!

Tiny tumours and the fight against cancer

18 July 2018

Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the UK, and as such requires our best efforts to develop the most effective treatments. At the recent Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, Dr Fiona Behan and Dr Hayley Francies presented research from the Sanger Institute describing efforts to identify new cancer drug targets. Organoid technology allows us to grow cancer cells in 3D, capturing many features of cancer. This ability of organoids to mimic cancer has led us to use them extensively to model drug responses. We combine these 3D models with CRISPR-Cas9 genome-editing technology to identify genes essential for the survival of cancer cells. By switching off each gene in the cancer cell and identifying those required for survival, we identify new candidate drug targets that could be brought to the clinic. Through combining these advanced technologies, we hope to contribute to the effort to ensure that every cancer patient receives a successful therapy.

Caroline Glover joins the Programme as our Programme Manager

17 July 2018

Caroline initially trained as a Chemist at the University of Sheffield, where she completed her Master’s degree, followed by a PhD in Chemistry and Tissue Engineering. She joins us from Cancer Research UK, where she was working as a Clinical Research Funding Manager.

Caroline’s role as Programme Manager will involve the monitoring of programme objectives against milestones, co-ordination of resources, meeting management and support to Programme Leads, and directly working with the CRUK Cambridge Centre administrative office in meeting the strategic goals of the Centre.

Beth Bartlett wins undergraduate research prize

10 July 2018

Congratulations to Beth Bartlett on winning the Department of Biochemistry’s Alkis Seraphim Prize for the best third year undergraduate research project, which she undertook in Professor Steve Jackson’s Group at the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute.

It is highly important for our cells to be able to repair their DNA when it is damaged as defects or mutations in DNA can cause cancer. Our cells have several pathways they can use to repair different kinds of DNA damage, with Beth’s project focusing on the Ku80 protein that is involved in repair of DNA double strand breaks. The Jackson Group have previously used CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technology to screen for genes that potentially interact with Ku80. One of these genes of interest was Ube2m. Beth’s research found that mouse embryonic stem cells lacking Ku80 are more susceptible to DNA damage, and that cells in which both Ku80 and Ube2m are knocked out are less viable and cannot progress through the cell cycle, suggesting an important role for Ube2m alongside Ku80.

Asking the fundamental questions

9 July 2018

Aji Jatikusumo, a PhD student from Dr Luca Pellegrini’s Group in our Programme and based at the Department of Biochemistry, was interviewed by Gates Cambridge last week on his journey to Cambridge and his research into the process of DNA synthesis.

Aji commented that: “Gates Cambridge and my time at Cambridge have taught me a lot. I hope it will inspire many other outstanding Indonesian students to dream bigger and to be more global.”

Follow the link below to read the full article on the Gates Cambridge website.

Aji Jatikusumo wins a prize at the Department of Biochemistry 3rd Year Postgraduate Symposium

28 June 2018

Congratulations to Aji Jatikusumo, a PhD student in Dr Luca Pellegrini’s Group, on winning second prize in the Department of Biochemistry’s annual 3rd Year Postgraduate Symposium.

DNA replication is an essential process in all walks of life for passing down genetic information from mother to daughter cells. This process needs to be tightly regulated and efficient as any problems may result in detrimental genetic instability. Our cells have evolved a complex protein machinery to carry out the process of DNA replication. Aji’s PhD research focuses particularly on the initiation stage of the process, where molecular details are currently sketchy. Aji is approaching these outstanding questions by reconstituting the proteins responsible for initiation in vitro, which then can be used for a series of biochemical, biophysical, and structural studies.

Five minutes with... Dr Lori Passmore

25 June 2018

Dr Lori Passmore from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology was interviewed by the BMJ last week about the importance of international mobility in science. Since starting her lab in 2009, Lori has had 17 PhD students and postdoctoral researchers: three from the UK, seven from the EU, and seven from non-EU countries. Her laboratory is very international, and that is the norm in research.

Lori commented that "Only with international mobility will we be able to attract and retain outstanding scientists, and maintain our strong position as global leaders in science."

A fond farewell

21 June 2018

Dr Yuu Kimata, a Group Leader from our Programme based at the Department of Genetics, is sadly leaving Cambridge to begin a new research group as an assistant professor at the ShanghaiTech University, China.

We would like to wish Dr Kimata every success for the future!

Passmore Group at All Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research
All Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research

8 June 2018

A number of Cambridge researchers attended a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research at the House of Commons on 5 June. The aim of the event was to discuss the importance of international mobility in science.

Dr Lori Passmore, from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, gave a keynote talk focussing on international diversity in her team, and the importance of mobility for attending conferences, accessing scientific infrastructure and working with collaborators. Since she started her lab in 2009, 17 PhD students and post-docs have worked with her – 3 from the UK, 7 from other EU countries and 7 from non-EU countries. Dr Pablo Alcón and Terence Tang from Lori’s Group were also there to discuss issues around mobility with parliamentarians. Overall, the meeting conveyed the importance of an efficient immigration system for skilled researchers and their families, that is fair and transparent.

G-Proteins Conference Logo
Small G-Proteins in Cellular Signalling and Disease

30 May 2018

Dr Darerca Owen and Dr Helen Mott from the Department of Biochemistry are organising a focused meeting on the role of Small G-Proteins in Cellular Signalling and Disease. The meeting will take place July 9-12 at Clare College, Cambridge, with sessions including:

  • Therapeutic targeting of small G proteins,
  • Localisation: spatiotemporal signalling,
  • Small G protein function in context,
  • Regulators and modulators,
  • Effector signalling pathways,
  • Small G proteins in disease: challenges and progress.

Registration is open, and will remain open until approximately the end of June. You can register via this link: https://tinyurl.com/yas23hep

The meeting planning is going from strength to strength and the full programme is of extraordinary quality. The programme has just been released and is available via the tinyurl link above. We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in July!

Lister Prize Lecture Poster
Dr James Nathan to give Lister Prize Lecture

22 May 2018

Dr James Nathan from the Cancer Institute for Medical Research will be giving a talk for the award of his Lister Prize on Friday 1st June, entitled "Metabolic Regulation of Oxygen Sensing Pathways". All CMB Programme members are welcome to attend. The talk will take place at 11am in the Sackler Lecture Theatre of the Wellcome Trust/MRC Building on the Addenbrooke's Site.

The Lister Prize Fellowships are awarded by the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine to young researchers undertaking high quality biomedical research, and are designed to assist scientists in situations where the prize money will have a significant beneficial impact on their work and career.

New EMBO Members
Dr Lori Passmore and Dr Michaela Frye elected as EMBO members

15 May 2018

Congratulations to Dr Lori Passmore from the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology and to Dr Michaela Frye from the Department of Genetics at the University of Cambridge on being elected as members of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO).

Dr Rhys Grant joins the Programme as our Science Communication Specialist

14 May 2018

Dr Rhys Grant trained as a Biochemist at the University of Cambridge, completing his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Natural Sciences (Biochemistry), followed by a PhD in the Department of Genetics and a short postdoctoral position in Dr Catherine Lindon's Group in the Department of Pharmacology. Since a young age, Rhys has actively sought out all opportunities related to science communication; ranging from exhibiting at local and national science festivals and blog writing, to the design of educational resources and lecturing at school science clubs. Rhys has joined us from the Linnean Society of London, where he was working as the Education and Public Engagement Manager, to run our Programme's external communications, produce educational digital media, and lead our outreach work. His role is a joint position shared between our Programme and the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge.