Lauren Syms
Posted by
Lauren Syms

Q & A WITH NEWCASTLE BASED RESEARCHER, DR AL GABRIEL

Lauren Syms
Posted by
Lauren Syms
30 Oct 2015

Dr Al Gabriel shares some insight into his research work in Newcastle, his most memorable moment and what inspired him to become a blood cancer researcher.

We caught up with one of our researchers, Dr Al Gabriel and put him in the hot seat to answer our 10 questions. Here is a little insight into the world of research and what Al and his team are up to.

Can you tell us about your research work here in Newcastle?

Our lab specialises in understanding the genetic basis of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). ALL is the most common type of childhood leukaemia, with current survival rates around 90%. However, some leukaemias have a genetic profile which makes them more resistant to chemotherapy and these patients have a worse outcome. I am currently investigating a group of patients whose leukaemia is characterised by a genetic aberration involving the MLL gene, which has a poor outcome in patients.

What inspired you to become a blood cancer researcher?

I actually got into leukaemia research unexpectedly! I read a few research articles prior to starting my research here in Newcastle which got me really excited.  The direct contribution such research makes to patient care and treatment, as well as its rewarding nature, was too appealing to pass up.

How long have you been a blood cancer researcher?

I have been a blood cancer researcher for the last four years, which has been exciting and highly rewarding.

Can you tell us what a typical day might be for you or one of your team in the labs?

A typical day for a laboratory scientist starts with a strong cup of coffee! It mostly involves preparing reagents and chemicals for the experiments ahead. Most of us spend the day screening leukaemic cells, either directly from patients or cell lines. We generate a significant amount of genetic data and as a result a large amount of our time is spent crunching large datasets to make sense of biological systems.

Does your research into leukaemia have potential implications for other blood cancers or other cancers generally?

Absolutely. One of the great advantages of leukaemia research is that the majority of genes and biological systems we investigate are involved in other cancers as well. This makes our research highly transferable between different types of leukaemias as well as solid tumours.

Give us a memorable moment you’ve had while working as a blood cancer researcher in Newcastle?

Back in 2011 I was invited to spend a day with clinicians here in Newcastle. I was moved by how much effort and expertise goes into treating children with leukaemia. Witnessing the strength of these children going through a gruelling chemotherapy regimen while still smiling and joking with nurses is the most memorable moment for me.

What’s the silliest thing you have done in the lab?

I once mixed up my tubes and ended up using alcohol instead of water in an experiment.

Have you or your team ever done any fundraising for Bloodwise? And did you enjoy the experience?

Our group regularly participates in fundraising; we participate in at least four Bloodwise events a year. I had my first fundraising in the new Bloodwise T-shirt just a month ago. It is always an enjoyable experience, and the public always ask interesting questions about science and research in general. I often find questions from the general public more difficult to address than those from my fellow peers.

Can you tell us something you’re proud of?

I am really proud of the general public who happily donate to support our great cause. Our research would not be possible if it wasn’t for their generous donation and the fantastic fundraising events organised by Bloodwise.

Who is Al Gabriel outside the lab?

Outside the lab I am a keen clay-pigeon shooter. I spend the majority of my weekends walking the Northumberland coast and countryside with my dog.