Dr Ian Garner is a post-doctoral researcher at the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre. He joined Professor Bob Brown’s team earlier this year to investigate the science behind drug resistance in ovarian cancer. We asked Ian some questions to find out more about his work on epigenetics, what keeps him motivated, and his hopes for ovarian cancer research.
What is your role at the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre?
As a post-doctoral researcher I conduct both dry-lab research, which involves in-depth data analysis, and wet-lab research (think white lab coats, pipettes and chemicals!) where I design and conduct biological experiments. A typical day comprises of maintaining cell lines, testing drug treatments, and writing code to analyse data.
What were you doing before you joined Professor Bob Brown's team?
In 2016, after completing my PhD in lung fibrosis at University College London, I joined Imperial College London to study pancreatic cancer. My research involved mapping out and analysing large amounts of genetic data in order to find (amongst other things) tools that could help doctors predict how well patients will respond to treatments.
How will your research help make a difference to ovarian cancer patients?
Unfortunately, some patients stop responding to chemotherapy because their ovarian cancer has become resistant to the treatment. I'm working to pinpoint the mechanisms behind chemo-resistance so we can reverse it, or prevent it from happening in the first place.
I hope to explain how a specific drug given to ovarian cancer patients actually changes the genetic make-up of their cancer cells so they’re no longer affected by treatment; and explain how this information may be used to re-sensitise these cells to chemotherapy. My other work aims to define epigenetic biomarkers - biological flags that could help predict which women will stop responding to chemotherapy. If doctors knew this straight away, women could avoid unnecessary chemotherapy treatment and instead try another, more effective type of therapy.
What interested you in ovarian cancer research?
Ovarian cancer is a complex disease and we need more research if we are to better understand it and overcome the challenges it presents. At the moment, epigenetics and mechanisms of drug resistance in ovarian cancer aren't well defined. To work with an internationally recognised team at Imperial and contribute research in a cancer desperately needing better treatment options is a huge opportunity to develop and apply my work in epigenetics and bioinformatics.
Why is research important?
Scientific research is essential if we are to improve the diagnosis and outcomes for all women with ovarian cancer. We must build upon current research to better understand genomic/epigentic mechansims in ovarian cancer and how they could be used to combat and predict drug resistance.
What keeps you motivated on a hard day?
Being part of a research team is a privilege. Without charities, fundraisers, kind donations, research teams wouldn't exist. My motivation is born from not wanting to let down these people. On difficult days I remind myself that not every day will work out how you had hoped. Not every experiment will work, not every line of code will run flawlessly. The feeling of disappointment is natural but won't help accomplish anything or benefit anyone. Learning from these disappointments however, allows for another opportunity to succeed, another chance to understand cancer mechanisms and make a real impact on the lives of those affected by cancer. As a research scientist, this is all the motivation I need.
What's your vision for the future of ovarian cancer treatment?
In the future we will be able to predict which women are likely to develop resistance to a given drug before they start treatment. This will lead to a more personalised treatment approach that can match patients with the best treatments, lower the chances of drug resistance, and ultimately improve survival.
Would you like to hear more from our scientists at the Research Centre? Meet Professor Bob Brown and find out about his exciting work to overcome chemo-resistance.