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Tom Kelly

Tom undertook his PhD research with CTCR.  He is now working as a bioinformatics postdoc in Riken Yokohama Institute, Japan.

An interview with Tom during his PhD research

Synthetic lethal project

Tom's research, as a bioinformatics postgraduate student, is collaborating with the Cancer Genetics Laboratory on the Synthetic Lethal project.

Synthetic lethality is causing death of the cell by knocking out 2 gene functions, where normally either knockout can be survived. Tom has developed a statistical method to predict synthetic lethal gene pairs from public data. His doctoral research is extending this method for network analysis and investigating tissue-specificity of genetic interactions.

Pivotal to finding drug targets

Synthetic lethal interactions are an exciting approach for developing anti-cancer drugs to target genes knocked out in some cancers. Predicting new synthetic lethal gene pairs will augment existing studies and could find targets more suited to drug testing.

In addition to understanding the underlying biology, a network approach will help us understand how applicable synthetic lethal drugs will be:

  • How many cancer types could it treat?
  • Which mutations will they target?
  • Who is at risk of side effects?

"I feel like a valued member of the team with unique expertise. I am able to address questions computationally with predictions that the others cannot test experimentally."

Advice for the budding researcher

Tom grew up in Rotorua.  Patterns and formulae came naturally to him. His advice is to choose a field you really enjoy, then committing to it won’t be so scary. Don’t just learn content, learn skills, and what other fields are doing – it’s easier to collaborate. Talk to postgrad students ahead of you, and lecturers, you’ll get an idea of what research in your area is like and what exciting things you could do.

"When I was growing up I learned maths quickly and applied it to the world around me: handling money, reading the weather, converting units for baking… I was also interested in dinosaurs, ancient Egypt, and volcanoes."

Tom sought to combine skills in math and biology from the beginning of 2nd year undergraduate study. He took a studentship in population genetic modelling where he really enjoyed the work, but felt isolated working on an abstract problem. So he took another studentship in bioinformatics with Mik Black (who works closely with Parry Guilford) which led to a co-supervised Honours project.