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Dr Nikki Copeland

Q. NAME

A. Dr Nikki Copeland.

Q. JOB TITLE

A. NWCR Independent Research Fellow and Lecturer in Biomedicine.

Q. PLACE OF WORK

A. Lancaster University.

Q. WHAT DO YOU DO?

A. Our aim is to understand how cell division is regulated. We work with protein engines that enable cells to divide. In healthy tissue these processes are tightly controlled, but defects (mutations) that arise in these control systems make it more likely that cells will form tumours. We aim to identify how tumour cells are different from the normal cells and use this information give a better understanding of how cancer develops.

Q. HOW WILL THIS HELP TO BEAT CANCER?

A. Understanding how defects arise in the control system will give us insight into how cancer cells divide uncontrollably. Identifying the changes that occur in these cells will give us a better understanding of the approach to use in the treatment of cancer. From the patient’s perspective these changes provide cancer-specific targets for therapeutic intervention. In addition, these changes are being used to develop blood tests to identify people with early-stage lung cancer. This should enable early treatment that provides the best chance of a full recovery.

Q. HOW DOES NORTH WEST CANCER RESEARCH SUPPORT YOUR WORK?

A. NWCR has supported my research for the past four years with the award of an independent research fellowship that has enabled me to establish and develop my research. I have been awarded additional support with collaborators in Liverpool and a project in Lancaster that are enabling the training of the next generation of cancer researchers. These projects are finding new evidence that improves our understanding of how cancer develops. As these projects mature, we aim to transfer our research from the bench to the bedside and aid in rational drug design.

Q. WHAT DRIVES OR INSPIRES YOU?

A. Cancer research is one of the most inspiring research areas that you could imagine and this career provides a great opportunity to give back to society. The most exciting part is that there are new discoveries happening every day. From a researcher’s perspective, the new tools for research and new targetted therapies for the treatment of cancer are enabling us to do more detailed and precise experiments. This allows us to gain more insight into the control networks that enable tumour growth and provide new opportunities to target cancer cells specifically. The next phase of cancer therapy will use more drugs that target cancer-specific mutations, which will minimise complications arising from conventional chemotherapies. Cancer researchers are making discoveries that are reducing the impact of cancer on patients’ lives. What could possibly motivate us more than contributing to better understanding and treatment of cancer?

Q. WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?

A. I have a young family that keep me busy, but when I find time I like to keep fit and I occasionally fundraise for NWCR in muddy running events. If you’d like to sponsor me, contact head office for details!

Q. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE SAYING?

A. “If you cannot explain your research simply, you do not understand it well enough.”

I have borrowed this quote from Albert Einstein, because as a student I was so focused upon the scientific detail that I rarely tried to explain it to a wider audience including non-scientists. Hopefully, I can live up to this advice.

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