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Voice from the Lab: Dr. Phillip Lawton

I am a Research Associate at Imperial College London. The aim of my work is to test novel methods of treating ovarian cancer that could induce tumour cell death by targeting DNA repair proteins using small RNA molecules called miRNAs. These molecules target the products of genes to silence their expression. By targeting DNA repair genes and reducing their expression, we can inhibit the repair of DNA damage. The hypothesis is that by doing this, we can sensitise tumour cells to existing DNA damaging chemotherapy currently used to treat ovarian cancer.

What are you currently working on?

The main aspect of the project looks at miRNAs regulated by p53, a protein often termed ‘the guardian of the genome’ for its role in preventing tumour formation. As a part of its function, p53 can activate certain miRNAs, which in turn act to decrease the expression of DNA repair genes in order to promote cell death. In ovarian cancer, p53 is almost always mutated and no longer carries out this function. Therefore we want to test the effects of re-introducing these miRNAs on tumour cell death and the clinical settings in which their use would be most applicable to help patients.

What motivates you?

Though I have interests in basic science from multiple disciplines, it’s the translational aspect of research that really motivates me. Basic science is very interesting, but nothing compares to research that can improve the quality of someone’s life, and nothing impedes life quite like cancer. The hope is, that one day, the work you do will contribute to novel therapies that might be able to prolong people’s life, and it’s this thought that makes this job so amazing.

Read more Voices from the Lab here: Dr. Silvia Ottaviani, Rosemary Lane, Dr. Elena Lopez-Jimenez, Neha Tabassum and Dr. Niklas Feldhahn.

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