DPhil, Department of Oncology
Investigating the role of tissue-resident NK cells in the development of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC)
My project is aimed at characterising the role of a recently-described subset of NK cells in the pathogenesis of the most common type of pancreatic cancer, i.e., pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC).
Tissue-resident NK cells differ substantially from their circulating counterparts. They have been shown to play a role in tumour surveillance at barrier sites (such as the lungs or the gut), but their role in the pancreas is still to be elucidated. Preliminary data suggest that they might control the early stages of tumorigenesis, and specifically the transition from precursor lesions to overt cancer.
How could your research ulitmately benefit patients
Understanding what regulates the transition from precursor lesions to overt cancer in the pancreas would have paramount translational implications. Pancreatic cancer has an exceedingly low survival rate and is projected to become the second-deadliest cancer by 2030. The reason for this lies in the fact that the majority of patients are diagnosed at a very late stage. Early detection of the disease would lead to patients being diagnosed and treated earlier and, as a result, would cause a substantial increase in survival for a disease with such a dismal prognosis.
I qualified as a doctor in Italy, after attending an International Medical School in Rome. I started gravitating towards immuno-oncology during my third year, and soon reckoned that I wanted to explore this subject from a more practical point of view than my heavily theoretical curriculum would allow. This led me to undertake a couple of research internships abroad (in Sweden and the Netherlands).
While flirting with research was fun, by the end of my six-year journey in medical school, I had not yet figured out whether my commitment was strong enough to put my clinical training on hold. I thus flew back to Stockholm, where I spent 7 months becoming better acquainted with the ups and downs of working in a lab. For some reason, that did not stop me from pursuing the research path even further, and I then took on a position as research assistant in Cambridge. By that time, I had come to terms with the fact that I wanted to become a clinician scientist and, therefore, I was more than happy to relocate to Oxford to give my relationship with research the opportunity to grow and evolve.