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Early detection and epigenetics

Tanis is an Assistant Research Fellow based in the Cancer Genetics Lab. She works on a variety of projects including the chemoprevention of gastric cancer and development of a device to be used for the detection of circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) in the blood stream.

Tanis’ work uses both cell lines and patient tissue samples. The practical components of her work require seeing the big picture, keeping very good records and always asking “why?” a trait Tanis never grew out of.

She really values the patient-relevant focus of her work and hopes to continue working with this emphasis.

“Having a face, or a name, to work towards helps to get me out of bed on a Monday morning”.

Unlocking the potential of existing drugs

Tanis is looking at new combinations of existing drugs. Since these drugs are already approved (if found to be effective in new combinations) they would be available to patients much sooner. Typically it would take 15 years for a new drug to become available.

In some combinations 1,000 fold lower concentrations are being investigated. Potentially this could decrease side effects and costs of treatment. These combinations may also be effective much longer because they maintain the normal cells while working ‘quietly’ in the background. What they do is affect the pre-cancerous cells without alerting the cancer’s stress response mechanisms.

Fascinated by DNA

Tanis was attracted to this area of research through the power of DNA. One letter difference in the DNA sequence can draw the line between someone getting ill or not. Then she discovered epigenetics, where despite the code remaining unchanged, changes could be made in gene expression by influencing the environment. The gene could be switched on or off, or to speak loudly or softly.

Half way round the world to help find the answers

Tanis grew up in the Lake District in the UK. As a child, she liked building and demolishing things (to learn how they worked, honest!), geography and sports. She did her undergraduate study at Glasgow, starting with physics and chemistry before coming to genetics. She believes that you can’t make a scientist; they are born to it. She advises any budding researcher to go for it!

Tanis describes her process of arriving in the lab itself being helped along by “A geeky conversation at a climbing wall, resulting in sending in my CV.”

She appreciates the strong ethos in the lab of supporting each other: bolstering each other on the bad days and sharing the buzz on the good days.

Outside the lab Tanis can be found learning to build log homes, trying to learn tu surf before her chior trying to surf; things that take determination!