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By Rachel Conway on

Amazing women revolutionising cancer

In honour of International Women and Girls in Science Day, we wanted to celebrate some of the incredible women featured in our world-first Cancer Revolution: Science, innovation and hope exhibition.

Please note, Cancer Revolution: Science, innovation and hope ended on 27 March 2022. To find out what exhibitions and activities are open today, visit our What’s On section.

As clinicians, researchers and scientists, these five women have all played an important role helping to turn cancer into a disease that people can live with better and longer, whether it be through prevention, diagnosis or treatment.

Portrait of a woman in a lab wearing a lab coat
Image credit: Sigourney Bell

Sigourney Bell

Named as one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 in 2021, Sigourney Bell is  a PhD cancer researcher at the Gilbertson Lab in Cambridge, researching a rare childhood brain cancer and testing novel compounds to develop new therapies. She is also the co-founder of Black in Cancer, which promotes Black excellence in research and medicine and educates the community about early diagnosis and advocacy.

Passionate about scientific outreach and the importance of encouraging the next generation of Black students into STEM subjects, she and the rest of the organisation work hard inside and outside of science to communicate their work, provide visibility to young scientists and make sure the black communities receive the support they need.

Portrait of a woman wearing a yellow dress
Image credit: Professor Caroline Dive

Professor Caroline Dive CBE

Professor Caroline Dive is Professor of Cancer Pharmacology at the University of Manchester, Deputy Director of the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Manchester Institute, Director of the CRUK Manchester Institute Cancer Biomarker Centre and Co-Director of the CRUK Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence.

Caroline and her team at the CRUK Manchester Institute are working with The Christie NHS Foundation Trust to develop groundbreaking tests called ‘liquid biopsies’ to hunt cancer cells that have broken free from tumours and are circulating in the bloodstream.

Focusing on lung cancer, the world’s biggest cancer killer, they look for these circulating tumour cells to understand how lung cancer changes as it grows and to predict who might experience cancer coming back after their tumour has been removed by surgery.

Understanding a patient’s cancer usually involves taking a sample through surgery, known as a biopsy. However, this doesn’t always paint a full picture, especially if the disease has spread through the body, and taking repeated biopsies can be difficult and painful for patients. By developing the ‘liquid biopsy’ to capture cancer cells this could help researchers understand how lung cancer changes as it grows and spreads, and how it can become resistant to treatment. In turn, this opens up opportunities to develop new therapies to treat this deadly disease more effectively.

A portrait of a woman wearing a headscarf
Image credit: Mariam Jamal-Hanjani

Mariam Jamal-Hanjani

Mariam Jamal-Hanjani is the Senior Clinical Lecturer and Group Leader for the Cancer Metastasis Lab Research Department of Oncology UCL Cancer Institute and Honorary Consultant in Translational Lung Oncology for the Department of Medical Oncology at UCL Hospital.

As part of her work with UCL, Mariam is the lead for their PEACE (Posthumous Evaluation of Advanced Cancer Environment) study. A world first, it involves people living with incurable cancer donating their bodies for research after they die so that scientists can learn more about why cancer spreads and how advanced cancer kills.

For the PEACE study, Mariam and her team carry out autopsies on the donated bodies. By looking for patterns in how cancer develops, spreads and changes over time they hope to explain why treatments stop working and how patients eventually die from their disease to find ways to help more people diagnosed with advanced cancer in the future.

A portrait of a woman wearing a blue cardigan and red and white shirt
Image credit: Rebecca Fitzgerald

Rebecca Fitzgerald

Rebecca Fitzgerald FMedSci is a medical researcher whose work focuses on the early detection and treatment of oesophageal cancers. She is a tenured Professor of Cancer Prevention and Program Leader at the Medical Research Council Cancer Unit of the University of Cambridge.

Rebecca and her team of scientists at the University of Cambridge have invented a cheaper, simpler and kinder alternative to the intrusive endoscopies (when a thin tube is inserted into a person’s body to collect tissue) called the Cytosponge. The Cytosponge is swallowed like a pill, collecting cells as it is gently pulled back up the tube between the mouth and the stomach. This enables the detection of abnormal cells linked to a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus, which can increase the risk of oesophageal cancer.

Rebecca and her team are advancing the diagnosis of Barrett’s oesophagus, a warning for oesophageal cancer, by combining the Cytosponge test with artificial intelligence. These digital tools allow pathologists to detect cancer faster and earlier by helping them to spot details in the cell samples that are usually hidden to the human eye.

Portrait of a woman wearing a white cardigan and black and white shirt
Image credit: Dr Fiona Thistlethwaite

Dr Fiona Thistlethwaite

Dr Fiona Thistlethwaite is a Medical Oncology Consultant within the Experimental Cancer Medicines Team at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and Experimental Lead for CAR T cell therapy at The Christie and Director of iMATCH (Innovate Manchester Advanced Therapy Centre Hub). Specialising in Experimental Cancer Medicine and immune-oncology, focusing on clinical trial development in immunotherapy and adoptive T-cell therapy.

As part of her work at The Christie, Fiona is the Experimental Lead for a new form of immunotherapy treatment called CAR T cell therapy. This involves collecting patients’ immune cells, retraining them to target cancer and returning them to the patient to treat their disease. Since 2019, a team of clinicians at The Christie, Manchester, led by Fiona, have been treating certain patients with forms of blood cancer with this personalised form of immunotherapy, saving countless lives of people who would have most likely died without this revolutionary treatment.

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