We talk to Gene Schuster, Senior Bioinformatics Officer at the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research, London.
What has been your career path so far?
I previously worked to understand mechanisms that can extend the lifespan of worms, flies and mice. The research was focused on identifying mechanisms that worked in all three organisms and were unchanged by evolution, as this could mean that these processes are extremely important and thus could also be present in humans. One mechanism, calorie restriction, can greatly increase the healthy lifespan of these animals and reduce the frequency of age-related diseases such as cancer.
What is your role?
Now I work in the Endocrinology Team led by Professor Mitch Dowsett and Dr Lesley-Ann Martin. My role is to analyse massive datasets that are generated from laboratory work on cancer cells and clinical trials and help the scientists who carry out those experiments to make sense of what that data means.
Could you give us a brief description of your current project?
We are currently trying to identify gene changes in tumours that can lead to resistance to commonly used anti-hormone therapy drugs, called aromatase inhibitors. Aromatase inhibitors are used to treat hormone receptor-positive early breast cancers in postmenopausal women.
Could you give us some insight into the impact of this project?
It’s important to identify patients who are at risk of developing resistance to treatment early, as they might greatly benefit from changes to their treatment. They could potentially be offered treatment options that work better for their type of tumour. While patients with a very low risk of developing resistance to treatment might be saved from unnecessary overtreatment.
What does your typical day involve?
Working on a computer writing code for the analysis of data and also ‘playing’ with the data to generate figures and outputs that best visualise and explain the research results. It allows us to better understand what mechanisms are at play when breast cancer becomes resistant to treatment.
What has been your most memorable work moment?
My most memorable moment was going to the biggest breast cancer conference in the world, the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium to present our work to a wide audience of breast cancer researchers and clinicians.
What’s the worst part of your job?
The long commute to work on the Central line.
What’s the best part?
Constantly learning new skills needed to stay at the forefront of research.
If you weren’t a researcher what would your dream job be?