Dr Sarah Spear is a post-doctoral researcher investigating why some ovarian cancers are more aggressive than others, and if the immune system plays a role. Her work aims to understand if the tumour genetics control how the immune system reacts to the tumour, and if we can develop drugs to alter this for the better.
What is your role at the Ovarian Cancer Action Research Centre?
I perform experiments in the lab, analysing ovarian tumours and the immune cells found within them. Our immune system should protect us against developing cancer, but many tumours develop ways of escaping immune attack.
Why is ovarian cancer research so important?
While chemotherapy helps so many people, unfortunately, many women with ovarian cancer stop responding and become resistant.
It's at this point that research is so vital. We urgently need to identify new drug targets, for those women who have stopped responding. As well as improve the existing treatment regimens for all women with ovarian cancer.
Did you always want to be a scientist?
In short: yes. I loved science at school and couldn’t really imagine studying anything else. I was and am particularly interested in how the body works and understanding diseases. This led me to do a degree in Biomedical Science and from there a PhD where I started to specialise in tumour immunology. It is a great pleasure to now work as a scientist every day trying to understand how cancer works.
What is your career highlight to date?
After my PhD I published a paper on my work in tumour immunology. This was a great feeling to know you had reached that milestone in your research where your findings could be shared publicly and therefore help other people working on the same problem. It was satisfying to see that all the funding and donations that paid for the research had led to a contribution to the scientific field.
What keeps you motivated on a hard day?
The reality of science is that a lot of your experiments won’t work out and it can be really (really) disappointing. At the OCA research centre, we are a big team all working towards addressing big questions in ovarian cancer. We all feel passionate about improving the lives of women with ovarian cancer and we feel honoured to receive donations and support that allow us to do this. Part of working towards such goals, is understanding that it takes many small steps to get there. The benefit of being in a team is while your day may have been a flop, someone else’s will have gone well. We share our achievements and try to solve each other’s problems.
Who inspires you?
There have been some major advances in the treatment of cancer over the last few years, with treatments that just target the immune system showing success. This inspires me to believe that one day we can achieve something like this for ovarian cancer patients.
What do you dream of achieving?
I would like to see personalised treatments for every patient, based on their tumour genetics. In this way, every woman would receive exactly the drug combination their tumour will respond to, rather than receiving drugs that may not work.