Andy Jackson
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Behind the lab coat Q&A: Professor Tessa Holyoake

Andy Jackson
Posted by
09 Dec 2013

As the lead researcher of the Holyoake Research Group at the Institute of Cancer Sciences, Professor Tessa Holyoake is an established force in the field of chronic myeloid leukaemia research and is currently looking into ways of eradicating CML stem cells, but what motivates her to do the work she does? Professor Holyoake tells us all this and more in our second behind the lab coat Q&A:

“What’s the best high and worst low of your job?"

Best - working with patients, families, donors and mentoring young scientists and doctors during their careers Worst - all the paperwork we have to do and the delays that this creates.

“What would be the one thing you would say if someone said science was boring (or scientists were boring)?”

People who are proactive and enthusiastic about life will enjoy everything they do so it is not the job that is boring but your approach to life.

“How do you explain your research to people at a party?”

Blood stem cells in the bone marrow function as the factory for blood production. When mutations occur within this population this confers cancer properties to the stem cells turning them into cancer/leukaemia stem cells.

Stem cells and cancer stem cells are difficult to kill as they are set-up or programmed to resist environmental stresses so that they can last you a life time. These stresses might include low oxygen, low glucose/nutrients/ chemotherapy/radiotherapy. This means that cancer stem cells are often left behind during chemotherapy.

Our work aims to look at all the genes/proteins/nutrients that normal cells use to exist, to divide, to make new blood cells and overall to survive. We then compare these individual genes/proteins/nutrients and the networks or pathways they function within to those of cancer /leukaemia stem cells to find hubs/nodes that are different between normal and leukaemic and can be targeted for therapy with a drug or drug combination.

“What do you like to do to unwind when you're not researching?”

Sport - cycling/running/swimming/hiking and spending time eating and drinking with friends; travel.

"What one thing would you tell your 21-year old self?”

I do not regret any career decisions so I would simply say go for it and make use of every second

“What’s the funniest or most embarrassing thing to happen to you in the lab?”

Nothing comes to mind.

Find out more about how our research is beating leukaemia