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University Hospital of Wales,
Cardiff, CF14 4XN
12 Feb

Wales Cancer Research Centre funding leads to promotion for researcher

Elaine Dunlop in the lab

We were delighted to hear the recent news that Dr Elaine Dunlop has been awarded a position as a Lecturer at Cardiff University.

Elaine started working for the Wales Cancer Research Centre in 2015 and we are thrilled that she has attained this sought-after promotion. Half of the new role will involve teaching, allowing her to impart the knowledge she has acquired throughout her career to medical students. On the research side, she has recently secured a grant from the Tuberous Sclerosis Association for a PhD student and now being made a permanent member of Cardiff University staff means she can apply for more grants than before.

Her research centres on the inherited conditions, Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC) and Birt-Hogg-Dubé (BHD) syndrome where patients are predisposed to develop cysts and tumours.  A strength of working on these rare diseases at Cardiff is that the University is internationally recognised for TSC research with established links between geneticists, molecular biologists and clinicians . Elaine aims to understand what is malfunctioning in TSC and BHD cells at a molecular level, with the goal of identifying weaknesses which could be specifically targeted by therapies. Similarities exist between the altered growth pathways in these genetic diseases and the pathways which are at fault in sporadic cancer, meaning these future treatments could also be effective for the wider cancer community.

In cancer, signals in the cell that control cell growth are overactive. This means the cells will grow out of control and a tumour will form. Elaine’s work looks at a particular growth pathway known as the mTOR pathway. If this pathway could be switched off, it could help prevent the rapid growth of tumours.

Elaine also studies the environment around tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC) cells to better understand the wider influences on cancer cell survival. She collaborates internationally, but has also forged close working relationships more locally too. In Cardiff, she works in collaboration with Dr. Jason Webber in the Tumour Microenvironment Group on vesicles which allow TSC cells to communicate with surrounding normal cells. She is working to see whether this communication pathway supports the growth of TSC cells and if blocking this could prevent tumour growth.

“Being awarded this Lectureship is a huge boost to my scientific career” says Elaine. “It is a great platform on which to establish my own research team and to continue building on my WCRC-funded work looking at the mechanisms of cancer growth and how we can prevent it. It also lets me spread my wings academically, through my involvement in the medical education of the future doctors of Wales.”

Work like this is vital to understanding how we can tackle cancer in patients. Some of Dr Dunlop’s work has shown promise in shrinking TSC tumours in mice. This work will now be tested on sporadic cancers in the laboratory, with the aim that if it shows promise in cancer it can be rolled out into a future clinical trial.