Dr Eileen Parkes has recently joined the Oxford cancer research community, bringing her expertise in cancer immunology and its applications in a variety of cancer types. She joined the Department of Oncology as a Clinical Career Development Fellow in September 2019, moving from Queens University Belfast. Initially trained at Queens University Belfast as a medic, Eileen later completed her oncology training at the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre. After completing her DPhil in the Kennedy lab with a focus on the immune consequences of DNA repair deficiency, and awarded a Cancer Research UK Clinical Fellowship.
Eileen’s work today
Eileen current focus is on STING signalling pathways and its influence on cancer immunology, with an additional interest in constitutive STING signalling in DNA repair deficient cancers, something she discovered during her DPhil studies.
STING (also known as Stimulator of interferon genes) play an important role in innate immunity. The STING pathway is responsible for inducing interferon production (signalling proteins used to alert other cells to an infection) when cells are infected by pathogens. Activation of these genes is thought to have great potential in enhancing anti-tumour immunity as well.
Eileen now focuses on understanding how to exploit the consequences of STING signalling for clinical benefit. Such applications include concepts such as deploying chemical agonists to bind to STING receptors and produce natural biological responses in cells, helping to induce their anti-tumour characteristics. Her more recent work also investigates how cancer cells co-opt these signally pathways in order to evade immune surveillance.
Eileen is excited to be co-hosting a CRUK funded DPhil programme in oesophageal cancer alongside Ester Hammond. Starting in October 2020, Bruno Beernaert Dominguez will be investigating the mechanisms of immunosuppression in hypoxia in oesophageal cancer.
Eileen has previously identified a form of immunosuppression that is mediated by STING-pathways. By understanding the role of hypoxia in STING pathway signalling, Bruno plans to explore new potentials for targeted immunotherapies and how cancers could become resistant to STING targeted treatments. In doing so, the lab hope to understand which patients will react better to STING-targeted treatments, and find alternative options for those who don’t.
Eileen’s passion for solving the real-world problems that cancer poses is further demonstrated through her academic successes. From the early stages of her medical career, Eileen was used to looking at healthcare with an eye to change, rather than accepting things as they were. Started with breast cancers, she was inspired by the conversations she had with women, about the life-changing treatments available with uncertain benefits and high risk-factors. It was these conversations that directed her towards her DPhil with Richard Kennedy, investigating breast cancer treatment responses.
During her DPhil, she became interested in the STING pathway, and was later awarded an academic clinical lectureship. During this time, she was awarded funding from the Academy of Medical Sciences, became the first person in Northern Ireland to receive the Young Investigator Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the first in Northern Ireland to receive a Young Investigator Award fellowship from the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Thanks to these awards, Eileen was able to expand on her research, develop collaborations and establish her own research group.
Dr Eileen Parkes says;
“As a woman in science, I am grateful to those who have forged a path for me – especially at Oxford – and demonstrated female leadership, supporting other women and encouraging those from under-represented groups.
“I am excited to see what I can bring to the research landscape of Oxford Cancer, and work towards establishing strong collaborations in order to tackle some of the bigger challenges in cancer research together.”
In recognition of the Oesophageal cancer work happening across Oxford, the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre will be posting a series of blog posts on its website highlighting the contribution of Oxford researchers to global efforts aiming to tackle this disease.
In 2014 Cancer Research UK highlighted Oesophageal Cancer as one of their cancers of unmet need and made it one of their funding priorities. Since then, the Centre leadership has made a concerted effort to harness Oxford’s fundamental and translational research expertise to develop novel ways of detecting, diagnosing and treating patients with this disease.