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 Introducing Kate Loveson MSc

Katie joined Prof. Pilkington’s team as a technician in October 2016 after graduating with a BSc in Forensic Biology at the university of Portsmouth and subsequently gained a merit in pass in her MSc Biomedicine. Acquiring many technical skills  during the past 3 years Katie has equipped herself well intellectually in coping with the rigours of experimental design and has recently had an abstract accepted for oral presentation at the prestigious European Association for Neuro-oncology conference in Heidelberg in Oct 2016.

My research is looking at the tumour microenvironment of brain stem gliomas. Brain tumours do not exist in isolation, there are a number of different cells, substrates, forces and cytokines involved in helping these tumours develop and survive. I am trying to understand how this not only helps the tumour but also understand if this can result in an altered neurodevelopment pathway and the creation of a tumour.

How you came to be working alongside Geoff and the team?
I actually did my MSc in the laboratory across the corridor with Prof. Arthur Butt. After some time out, travelling and working, I was invited on a lab tour by the previous Brain Tumour Research fundraiser, Jo. Here I met Dr Helen Fillmore; she invited me to volunteer in the lab after work to gain experience to apply for PhD programmes. Whilst I was volunteering, the lab received a grant from Children with Cancer UK for a Research Technician. At the time my wife was completing her PGCE to become a primary school teacher so I applied and luckily got the job. This enabled me to hone my skills and decide what I wanted to work on.

Why Portsmouth Uni?
During my time as a technician, I built a great relationship with Helen. To me, the supervisor is just as important as the project. I have spent quite some time in Portsmouth now and love the city. Also, PhD programmes in the UK are only 3 years, so the fact that I already understand the workings of the lab and the techniques they use has enabled me to hit the ground running!

What are your hobbies outside of work?
At the moment, my son Albert! He keeps me busy when I am not in the lab or writing. I love to travel and explore different cultures and food!

Where do you see yourself in the future – What are you aims?
I would love to lead of a team of hard-working researchers focusing on the brain developmental pathways and brain tumours and mentor them to become great scientists. My main aim is to do good science and ultimately make a little bit of difference to these kids with this devastating disease.

Your project:
There are no cures for several of the most aggressive primary brain tumours in children. One of the cruellest is the pontine diffuse glioma (DIPG) that takes up space in the most delicate area of the brain (brain stem) that is responsible for critical functions such as respiration and heart rate. Surgery is extremely hazardous and to date, other therapeutic approaches have shown little benefit. While much has been learned concerning molecular genomics, our groups’ focus is to better understand the tumour microenvironment.  My project is to help identify key host/tumour interactions and processes that drive tumour growth that will lead to improved therapeutics. Little is known about the DIPG/host micro- environment. To help inform our direction of research the first part of my PhD programme is to:

1) conduct bioinformatics analysis using databases that contain thousands of human samples from a wide range of tumours including DIPG. In addition, I will analyse data obtained from other databases containing information on genes involved in brain development. We are working closely with two brain developmental scientists here in Portsmouth. We believe this collaboration will be key in my studies. Using a systems biology approach in which we can look at different data sets, we can perform specific modelling and analyses that will help guide our experimental studies.

2) examine the expression of genes and proteins known to play a role in angiogenesis and tumour cell invasion using RNA isolated from several regions of DIPG post mortem tissue (tumour core, adjacent and ‘normal’).

To date, I have made connections with scientists in The Netherlands to obtain DIPG biopsy-derived cell lines which are currently being characterised in our laboratories. In addition, we have obtained post mortem tissue and I have started the focused microenvironment array experiments. This is a part of our groups work on mapping the DIPG micro-environmental landscape and to define the habitat in which these tumour cells survive and thrive.  We believe that targeting the host/tumour microenvironment in DIPG is a vital option as we
believe tumour aggressiveness is influenced by the two-way communication between the tumour and the host brain. Surrounding cells might serve as ideal targets, since they develop a specific phenotype in the presence of tumour cells and are genetically stable preventing the development of immune escape variants. My goal is to identify key host/tumour interactions and processes that drive tumour adaptation and this information will hopefully lead to improved therapeutics for these children.