We talk to Dr Callum Walker, a post-doctoral research scientist at the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research, London.

Thursday 13 December 2018      Research blog
Dr Callum Walker

Dr Callum Walker

What has been your career path so far?

I started my career at the University of Sheffield, which is where I studied for my PhD. I was researching how damage in our DNA may lead to neurodegenerative diseases. Because these diseases are caused by high levels of DNA damage, these patients are also at heightened risk of developing cancer. After being awarded my PhD, I came to work as a post-doctoral researcher at the Breast Cancer Now Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research.

What is your role?

I’m a post-doctoral research scientist in the Target validation and DNA damage response team, led by Professor Andrew Tutt. My role is to investigate the mechanisms by which tumours form in triple negative breast cancer.

Could you give us a brief description of your current project?

Often cells become cancerous when certain proteins inside the cell stop working properly. For instance, mutations in the BRCA1 gene lead to a faulty BRCA1 protein being made, which can’t accurately repair DNA. This results in an increase in DNA mutations, which in turn leads to cancer. Understanding exactly how breast cancer develops can help us find better ways to treat it. As well as understanding the biology of breast cancers, I am tasked with identifying new molecules inside the cell that could be targeted to treat breast cancer patients.

Now I am investigating a gene called HORMAD1, which our lab has identified as a factor contributing to breast cancer development. HORMAD1 is only active in sex cells (i.e. sperm and eggs), but, for some reason, it is switched on in the majority of triple negative breast cancer cells. The reason why HORMAD1 is switched on in these cancer cells remains unclear, but I am working to understand the importance and function of HORMAD1 in breast cancer.

Could you give us some insight into the impact of this project?

Because HORMAD1 is switched on in around 60% of triple negative breast cancers, understanding exactly what it does will allow us to understand better how a large proportion of these cancers behave. In addition, understanding the role of HORMAD1 may lead us to new drugs that can treat these cancers.

What does your typical day involve?

Typically, I spend the mornings growing cells in tubes and flasks and spend the afternoon analysing them for signs of DNA damage or other changes that are related to cancer.

What has been your most memorable work moment?

Publishing my first paper in Nature, one of the most prestigious scientific journals.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Going to meetings, as I much prefer carrying out experiments in the lab.

What’s the best part?

Discovering new things about the world that nobody has ever known before.

If you weren’t a researcher what would your dream job be?

A landscape gardener (abroad).