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Hannah is a Research Fellow in the Translational Gastoenterology Unit, Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine. She discusses her experience of the Fellowship and her research.

Hannah Chen.jpg

What is your research background?

I started my research career in oncology, first studying epithelial tumourigenesis then moving to Oxford (Department of Oncology) to do my DPhil in engineering tumour-targeting viruses. During that time I developed an interest in immunotherapy for cancer and decided to transition into immunology. I am now based in the Translational Gastroenterology Unit in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine.

What are you researching now?

My current research involves using single cell RNA sequencing and CyTOF to dissect the complexity of the intestinal mesenchyme, revealing transcriptomically and functionally-distinct subpopulations of mesenchymal cells regulating immune homeostasis and epithelial regeneration. My main focus is on identifying IBD disease-associated alterations in these mesenchymal cells, and uncovering new therapeutic pathways.

What has your experience of this Fellowship been like? 

It has been extremely positive, productive and a lot of fun. Celgene is very supportive when we approach them about new ideas based on our research discoveries; there is no set program for what we do – it is discovery and interest-driven, and we are always on the look-out for new drug targets or biomarkers. 

WHAT HAS BEEN THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE FELLOWSHIP SO FAR? 

There have been many highlights. Generally speaking,it’s been great to be so well-supported so that when I needed to use new technologies that are both demanding on the scientist and expensive, there has been nothing holding me back. Getting access to these technologies has enabled very efficient research progress for me. Discussing the translational potential of my research with our Celgene collaborators has also been highly rewarding.

WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS IMPORTANT FOR RESEARCHERS TO ENGAGE WITH INDUSTRY?

Personally, I am very motivated by possibility that something I work on could make a very ill person’s life or condition a little bit more manageable one day. In the lab we work directly with patient samples and I see patients waiting in endoscopy, so I don’t want my research to simply result in a publication (however high-impact it might be); I want the clinical applications to be the main driving force at all times. Collaboration with industry can really help speed this along as well as identify suitable opportunities.

It’s been great to be so well-supported so that when I needed to use new technologies that are both demanding on the scientist and expensive, there has been nothing holding me back.

 Do you have any advice for applicants to this Fellowship?

Firstly, think about how to write your proposal in a way that engages a broader audience – what is conceptually interesting about your idea? How would it exceed current knowledge on the subject and potentially benefit patients? Secondly, be professional and be prepared when you attend the interview.

What are your aspirations for the future of your research?

I hope to continue on my current trajectory and become a group leader, or, if I leave academia, develop a spin-out company. I’m keen to always maintain a close relationship with industry (hopefully Celgene) as the real motivation behind any work I do is always going to be the translational potential. I would like to evaluate the translational applicability of the new drug targets identified in my current work at the conclusion of this project, so we can take it forward if clinical development is warranted. 

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