My Summer Journey at Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute: A Dive into the World of Cancer Research
In the quiet corridors of Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute (CRUK CI), amidst the hum of sophisticated equipment and the groundbreaking research, I embarked on a journey that would forever alter my perspective on the battle against cancer. My name is Gideon Nsubuga, a master’s graduate in Immunology and Clinical Microbiology, from Makerere University in Uganda, and my path to this esteemed institute was paved with determination, opportunity, and a thirst for knowledge.
I was fortunate to secure a highly competitive fully funded studentship allowing me to travel from Makerere University to the University of Cambridge to immerse myself in an eight-week summer research program at the CRUK CI. The studentships for two Ugandan participants in the Summer School was possible as a result of a grant from CRUK awarded to Maike de la Roche. The program ran from July 9th to September 2nd, 2023, during which I working in the de la Roche’s group on my own research project titled “Hedgehog Signaling in γδ T-cells”. I was supervised by Flavio Beke, a PhD student in the de la Roche’s group. This incredible opportunity was made possible through the collaborative efforts of Cambridge-Africa and the Uganda Cancer Institute, illuminating the power of international cooperation in the pursuit of scientific advancement.
My journey from the vibrant streets of Kampala to the historic city of Cambridge exemplifies the transformative potential of education and opportunity. In Uganda, access to quality education and resources is often limited, the notion of pursuing a career in science can seem like an unattainable dream. With African researchers accounting for authorship of only 5% of global medical publications, the need for equitable representation and opportunity within the scientific community is pressing. Despite the myriad challenges that confront us – from limited access to resources and infrastructure to socio-economic and political instability – we, as the next generation of African scientists, remain undeterred in our quest to level the playing field.
As I reflect on my summer school experiences at CRUK CI, I think of the possibilities that lie ahead and the profound impact that each of us can make in the fight against cancer.
Arrival and Orientation
Prior to my arrival at the CRUK CI, I was already supported and guided by Dr. Ann Kaminski, Head of Scientific Administration, along with Mrs. Fiona Gabrielczyk, Scientific Administration Coordinator, and Kate Davenport, Research Administrator. I received a comprehensive set of supportive documents. laying the groundwork for an extraordinary journey into the world of cancer research at CRUK CI.
Stepping foot into the institute, the atmosphere conveyed a sense of purpose and dedication to advancing scientific knowledge and I embarked on the first steps of my journey. The visit started with a warm welcome talk from Dr. Ann Kaminski which set the tone for an enriching and transformative experience. I and other summer students then embarked on a guided tour of the institute. I couldn't help but marvel at the state-of-the-art facilities and cutting-edge technology that lay at my fingertips. I couldn’t believe that I was there! When I met with Flavio Beke, Dr. Maike De la Roche, and Louise O’Brien, their warmth and enthusiasm were contagious, instantly putting me at ease and igniting a sense of camaraderie that would define my time at the institute. Amidst the bustling corridors and laboratories, lay the promise of new discoveries, groundbreaking advancements, and, ultimately, the hope of a world free from the scourge of cancer. I knew that I was exactly where I was meant to be.
Research Project and Hands-On Experience
Prior to starting work in the laboratory, I underwent a comprehensive Health and Safety Induction and then under the supervision of Dr. Maike de la Roche and Flavio Beke, I embarked on my project.
At the start of each week of the eight-week program, Flavio and I met to discuss our objectives and chart a course for the days ahead. Before starting my own project, I had the privilege of assisting Flavio on his research, allowing me to gain invaluable skills along the way. Flavio ensured that I received comprehensive training in the core laboratory techniques essential to my project's success. From cell culture to western blotting, each training session provided me with the tools and expertise necessary to navigate the intricacies of scientific research with confidence.
During my project, I engaged in a wide range of experimental techniques and assays, from peripheral lymph node and spleen isolation from mice to qRT-PCR and western blotting assays for the Hedgehog signaling components. I also conducted cell stimulation assays, RNA and DNA extraction, and Vγ9Vδ2 expansion assays among other techniques. Each experiment presented its own set of challenges and triumphs, expanding my scientific horizons and refining my skills as a researcher.
One of the highlights of my project was the finding that Hedgehog receptors and co-receptors are differentially expressed in the γδ1 and γδ17 murine subsets, and that a unique Hedgehog transcription factor is expressed in Vγ9Vδ2 cells, with its expression correlated with the strength of stimulation. These findings were disseminated through a presentation at the CRUK CI Summer School symposium at the end of the summer school.
Gideon with the Summer School participants and Dr Ann Kaminski and Fiona Gabrielczyk
Mentorship and Collaboration
Amidst the whirlwind of lab work, the CRUK CI summer school program emerged as a beacon of mentorship and collaboration, providing a nurturing environment for personal and professional growth. One individual who left an indelible mark on my journey was Dr. Ann Kaminski. Ann became a cherished friend and mentor, offering invaluable guidance on CV and cover letter writing and providing advice on navigating the intricacies of PhD applications. Through her own journey in research, Ann empowered me to aim higher and dream bigger, instilling a sense of confidence and determination to never be limited by my background. Her unwavering support and encouragement continue to inspire me to this day.
The Wednesday lunchtime talks from various group leaders at the institute were inspirational, offering a glimpse into the groundbreaking research being conducted within the institute, as well as the personal journeys of the group leaders themselves. Maike and Flavio have continued to provide unwavering support and mentorship even after the summer school program.
The spirit of collaboration that defined my summer experience at CRUK CI has continued in the months that followed. I was delighted to participate in the Inaugural UCI – CRUK CI Summer School in Uganda, funded by a Cambridge-Africa ALBORADA grant where I helped out in the training of the attendees.
With Dr Maike de la Roche at the Cancer immunology and Bioinformatics Summer School held in Kampala, Uganda
My experience at CRUK CI was filled with personal growth and accomplishment. Each day presented new challenges and opportunities, from learning techniques to executing my own project. Witnessing the current situation of cancer in Africa has driven me to pursue a PhD focused on cancer biology, believing it to be the avenue through which I can make a lasting difference.
My summer at CRUK CI was been nothing short of transformative. From the moment I set foot in the institute, I was welcomed into a community of scientists dedicated to unraveling the mysteries of cancer and advancing the frontiers of scientific knowledge. Thank you, CRUK CI, for an unforgettable summer that will change the trajectory of my life!
By Gideon Nsubuga