Catherine's review of our tutor visit to the Manchester Cancer Research Centre

On the 23rd November, three of the Yipiyap tutors who are applying for Medicine, including myself, went to visit the Manchester Cancer Research Centre, which has links to the Christie hospital, for talks and a tour. It is a world-renowned centre for cancer research and is developing potentially revolutionary treatments, and so we felt very important indeed to have been invited!  We were the only students there, as thanks to Anne, we were part of a very exclusive day with what must have been only 15 others. Being part of such a prestigious event provides not only something unusual to bring up at interview but also the most relevant and up to date scientific research on cancer and the treatment of it which many other applicants will not have.

We were first treated to a very interesting talk on the work the centre is currently doing. They highlighted the main diagnostic issue with cancer, in the way that it is not being diagnosed early enough in many cases. What was fascinating was the description of cancer as having heterogeneity; i.e. meaning that each cancer is different from person to person and thus individual treatments are the way forward, as these will target the cause of the cancer in each person by identifying where in the genetic code the mutation has taken place. They discussed how personalised medicine was the way forward and how they have been working very closely to the Christie in order to start this as soon as possible.

Another topic they talked about was liquid biomarkers. A liquid biomarker is a small cell fragment that is formed when tumour cells die and shed their DNA. This fragment can be found in the blood and indicate the presence of a tumour and in some cases a metastasis which is when the cell fragments travel to different parts of the body and grow elsewhere. A sample can be collected by a simple blood test and analysed in a lab at the Centre which could revolutionise cancer treatment. It is cheap, non invasive and fairly routine and should make diagnosis easier, meaning cancers are caught earlier. This generally means that the prognosis is better, which to us as prospective medical students is fantastic news.

We were then shown round the labs by the lecturers- it was a lovely surprise to find the labs were big and open with lots of light and space which certainly conflicted with my previous impression of lab-based research! The lecturers talked about the need for communication between the Christie and the Centre but also between departments how important teamwork and communication was in this field of work and how they were trying to encourage this with a more open-plan lab space. This was a pleasant surprise for me at least, since I had never wanted to work in a lab because of my impressions of a quiet, secluded lab with very little contact with the “outside world” but this actually had me considering research in the future!

A lovely PhD student then came and gave us a presentation on her work on melanoma which is skin cancer. It was interesting to note whilst most cancers develop later on in life melanoma is most common in 20-30 year olds, and she even showed us some of the cells she was working on. They were thin and spindly and oddly enough not how I had expected them to look!

Over lunch we were able to thank all of the speakers and Anne, who gave us this opportunity. A fantastic and unusual thing to talk about at interview, and I will certainly endeavour to bring this up next week at my interview at the University of Leicester!