28 April, 2020

PhD student Kerri is working hard to find better ways to prevent breast cancer thanks to your generous donations. We caught up with her recently to see how she’s getting on. 

Why have you chosen to enter the field of science research? What, in particular, drew you to breast cancer research? 

I knew from my GCSE years at school that I wanted to obtain a degree in the medical science field. During my first year at university, I was really impressed with the way lecturers spoke about their research. And found the prospect of producing completely new research and contributing to the wider scientific community extremely exciting. I was drawn to cancer research during a 3rd-year course during my degree. The complexity of tumours and how they can vastly differ between individuals with the same cancer type really piqued my interest in this field. Additionally, since breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK for women and with its incidence continuing to rise, I became interested in the preventative side of breast cancer research. I believe that if we understand more about what contributes to breast cancer onset and the way in which this occurs, we can then work towards reducing the incidence of breast cancer in the general population, which would be extremely beneficial.  

Why is your breast cancer research so important?

As one of the most common cancers worldwide, breast cancer is a major health issue. Despite vast amounts of research into treatments, the number of people diagnosed with breast cancer is still rising. Reliable strategies to prevent it are few and far between.
What excites me most about undertaking this PhD is that I am contributing to filling a ‘gap’ in breast cancer research – how we can prevent it. So this project has the potential to make a real impact. Benefit many people potentially at risk of breast cancer. And hopefully help to reduce the number of people suffering from this destructive disease. 

Your research is completely animal free. Why is this crucial?

It is extremely important to me that research doesn’t involve animals. At present, sadly, it is extremely rare to find projects that completely omit the use of animals, but, in my opinion, it is the way forward for research. 

If we can produce new animal-free models, we can hopefully prevent animals from suffering unnecessarily. And also produce more reliable and effective models for both the prevention and treatment of diseases. Much of the testing done on animals is difficult to translate into humans – our animalfree models may lead to more accurate and potentially faster treatments. 

What are you working on right now?

I aim to determine whether exposure to certain chemicals could lead to breast cancer. The chemicals I’m studying are called endocrine disrupting agents, which are environmental chemicals that can interfere with the body’s hormone system. Currently, I am working to determine the effects of these chemicals – both short and long-term – through various experiments since it is not completely understood just how these agents act on non-cancerous cells. Whilst in lockdown, I am doing data mining for my project. This involves identifying potential genes involved in breast cancer development. Then determining what pathways or cellular processes they may regulate. Any potential key genes discovered will then be explored further through experiments once we are back in the lab.  

Has anything shocked or surprised you so far?

Perhaps what is most surprising is that such small concentrations of the environmental chemicals demonstrate an effect. This tells us that something must be going on inside the cells when they are exposed to these chemicals. The chemicals are also found in small concentrations in the environment, so there could be big implications for how we can prevent breast cancer. 

Where do you like to be when you’re not working?

I absolutely love sport, and competitive swimming – at the county and regional level – is something I spend many weekends doing. I am also a keen gym-goer and do the park run every weekendScotland is also a great place for walking. I hope to continue to explore this beautiful country when we can go out again.  

The final word…

I would like to say thank you very much to all Breast Cancer UK and Animal Free Research UK supporters. Your generosity means that we can continue to research animal-free models with the aim of replacing animal experiments within scientific research. 

You can read more about Kerri’s work herehere and here. 

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