After featuring in our Christmas Angels appeal, we wanted to find out more about researcher Dr Claire Wells and how her work will make a difference to women with secondary breast cancer.
Tell us about what inspired you to get into breast cancer research
My interest in science began at an early age, taking apart the model of a body in my primary school classroom and putting it back together as quickly as I could. My interest in human biology continued throughout university where I became fascinated by cell movement.
I have dedicated the last 17 years of my research life to trying to understand how cancer cells, in particular breast cancer cells, move around the body.
This is really important because the movement of cancer cells from the breast to other sites in the body, such as the bones, is the greatest cause of death in breast cancer patients.
How will your research help breast cancer patients?
Right now my lab is focussed on investigating a family of proteins called PAKs . These proteins are found inside the cell and we think that they are key drivers of breast cancer cell movement. We want to see whether we can stop PAK proteins from working, and if this can prevent breast cancer cells from moving.
Ultimately we hope to be able to develop a drug that can be used in the clinic to stop cancer cells from moving and thus prevent secondary breast cancer.
What does an average day at work look like for you?
No two days are the same! Sometimes I’m teaching on my Cancer Biology Course at Kings College London, educating the next generation of scientists. A lot of the time I’m with my team, discussing the latest data and working out what the next step should be in our research and on occasion I can be found tucked away in the microscope room making movies of breast cancer cells.
I also visit other scientific institutions and attend conferences in the UK and abroad to tell the wider scientific community about our latest discoveries.
What do you enjoy the most about your job and what are the biggest challenges you face?
Working with a team of scientists who are so dedicated to their research is great, especially watching the younger team members develop into talented cancer biologists. The most exciting times are when we discover something new and important in our quest to understand breast cancer cell movement. It can be a real challenge however to get financial support for a project idea and sometimes I’m not successful and have to go back to the drawing board.
How did you get involved in this year’s wear it pink?
Everyone in the lab made Breast Cancer Now themed cupcakes which we sold to the staff and students on the Guy’s Hospital campus at Kings College London; I would have to say that our best wear it pink accessories were the cupcakes. Breast Cancer Now, and previously Breast Cancer Campaign, has supported my work for a number of years and we wanted to show our appreciation and help to raise more funds to support breast cancer research.
For our Christmas Angels appeal people are sending a message of support to Breast Cancer Now researchers. But what message would you send back to our supporters?
That’s easy – a massive thank you – without the supporters we can’t do the research – this is without doubt a team effort and I am extremely optimistic that together we can stop women dying from breast cancer.
Learn more about our Christmas Angels appeal and make a donation to support research like Claire's.