The effect of aging has been key to a lot of your work – and there is real growing interest around aging-based therapies for various conditions. Do you think you can see a path to the clinic for some of your work?
Aging is the key risk factor for the development of cancer, so if we could understand how healthy aging works and why diseases accelerate or subvert this process, we could make an enormous impact on a range of diseases. The area has really exploded recently with various large technology firms getting into aging research.
I was originally fascinated by how diseases could accelerate features of aging at different rates in different tissues. The liver is a prime example of this with multiple features of accelerated senescence during disease of the organ. Targeting of senescence is becoming a viable future therapeutic prospect in multiple clinical trials around the world.
Our recent work has focused on age- and disease-related genetic change in chronic liver disease. We have found accumulation of DNA coding variants related to metabolic dysfunction in patients with liver disease. Many of these variants are functional and dysregulate key metabolic pathways. Over the next few years, we will be working to understand how these variants relate to metabolic dysfunction and liver cancer development.
As a Fellow with CRUK, tell us about what this means for a research career?
I have been very fortunate to have been supported by CRUK over the last 10 years or so with a previous advanced clinician scientist fellowship and now a programme foundation award. These have given me the freedom to develop as a scientist, but also a UK-based community that has been incredibly supportive.
The CRUK fellows’ meetings are a great opportunity to meet clinicians and scientists at similar stages and to develop collaborations that have delivered a lot of the science that I have been involved with over the last few years. Beyond the funding, I have also received great advice and support from Cancer Research Horizons with legal discussions and patent applications, which are languages that I am not fluent in.
The fellowship also comes with important responsibilities. Running Race for Life over the last few years is a reminder of the gratitude that we should all express to our fund-raisers and donors who work so tirelessly to support our science.
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