Edinburgh Cancer Research

Our scientist urges city to walk all over cancer

Our colleague who was inspired to become a cancer scientist after her grandmother’s life was extended following pioneering treatment, is calling on men and women to Walk All Over Cancer and help raise money for vital research: March 2020

Kristel at work and during her walks
Kristel at work and during a walk. [Photo credit: Lesley Martin]

Kristel Sepp, a PhD student at the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre, is urging people to sign up now and get sponsored to walk 10,000 steps a day in March.

Scientist Kristel, aged 28, from Leith, knows first-hand how important research is to people with cancer after losing her beloved grandmother to the disease.

Senta Sosi died from pancreatic cancer aged just 63 years old, while Kristel was studying for a degree in chemistry at the University of Edinburgh.

It was saying goodbye to her grandmother that drove Kristel, originally from Kuressaare in Estonia, to become a cancer scientist. After completing her undergraduate degree, she joined the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre to study for a PhD in optical medical imaging.

Kristel said: “My grandma was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer before I started high school. It was really hard for all the family. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat and we didn’t know what to expect. But, after surgery and chemotherapy, she lived for another five years. I’m so grateful that thanks to her treatment we got to spend more time with her – and that she got to see the birth of another granddaughter, my cousin."

She continued: “It was research that developed the treatment that gave my grandma more time with her family. That’s why I decided I wanted to become a cancer researcher, and why I’m calling on people in Edinburgh to sign up with me to Walk All Over Cancer and raise money to help more people have more time with their family and friends.”

Kristel works at the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre on a technique called stimulated Raman scattering microscopy (SRS), which allows her to study how drugs behave in cancer cells in real time.

She explained: “To be able to study a drug in this way, we get a better understanding of where the drug goes in cancer cells – does it go where we expect it to go in order to kill the cancer cells? This has been a big challenge for scientists up until now.

I’ve been studying how drugs behave in chronic myeloid leukaemia cells. Some patients with this type of blood cancer stop responding to treatment because their cancer becomes resistant to the drugs.

I’ve been using SRS to look at how one drug used to treat chronic myeloid leukaemia behaves in cancer cells that are sensitive to the treatment, compared to cancer cells that are resistant to it.

By understanding clearly how drugs behave in cancer cells in real time, it could help scientists to develop better cancer treatments more quickly and at less expense.”

As well as working on ground-breaking cancer research, Kristel enjoys keeping fit and tries to walk 10,000 steps every day as part of her exercise plan. She uses a fitness tracker on her wrist to keep track of how many steps she’s taken.

She said: “I like to walk because I enjoy the fresh air and the health benefits of walking. If it’s the weekend, I like to walk to the top of Arthur’s Seat. Day to day, I’ll do things like walk to the gym and back to try to get in as many steps as I can.”

She continued: “If you take on the Walk All Over Cancer challenge, it’s up to you how you reach 10,000 steps per day. You could take on the challenge on your own or with family, friends and colleagues. And you can try to find ways to fit your steps in around your other daily activities. For example, I like to walk when I’m Skyping my mom. That way I can get my steps in and catch up with what’s going on back home in Estonia at the same time.”

Keeping check on the number of steps taken each day has never been easier, with many smartphone apps, pedometers and wearable activity trackers.

Victoria Steven, Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson for Scotland, said: “Signing up to Walk All Over Cancer is a great way to kick-start a healthier lifestyle, now that Spring is just around the corner.

She added: “Walking 10,000 steps is equal to about five miles, based on the average person’s strides. That’s quite a challenge for many people. But adopting small lifestyle changes – from walking to work or taking the stairs instead of the lift – can help make the goal feel achievable.”

In Scotland, a fifth (20 per cent) of people are getting less than 30 minutes of physical activity a week.

Not only will taking on the challenge help raise money, it has health benefits as well. Moderate exercise can help build stamina, burn excess calories and protect against a range of diseases including cancer.

Victoria continued: “By signing up now, there’s time to plan ways to fit in some extra steps in March. Everyone who gets sponsored to go those extra miles will be making a real difference to the 88 people diagnosed with cancer every day in Scotland.

Cancer survival has doubled since the early 1970s and Cancer Research UK’s work has been at the heart of that progress – but every step our doctors, nurses and scientists take relies on donations from the public and the tireless fundraising of our supporters.”

To sign up now, visit www.cruk.org/walkallover

Related links

Walk All Over Cancer Website: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/get-involved/find-an-event/walk-all-over-cancer

Studying intracellular drug distribution using stimulated Raman scattering microscopy – example of Kristel’s recent research: https://www.ed.ac.uk/cancer-centre/news-and-events/news-2020/drug-distribution-raman-scattering-microscopy