Institute of Genetics and Cancer

Hastie Career Advancement Awards for IGMM postdocs

​​​​​​​Postdoctoral researchers Patricia Heyn of the MRC Human Genetics Unit and Mari Carmen Ortega Liebana of the CRUK Edinburgh Centre recently received awards from the Hastie Career Advancement Fund: September 2020

Portraits of Patricia Heyn and Maria Ortega Liebana
Patricia Heyn (left) and Mari Carmen Ortega Liebana (right)

The Fund was launched in 2018 to honour the legacy of Emeritus Professor Nick Hastie and supports talented early-career scientists at the Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine (IGMM) to progress in their careers. As former Director of the Institute and the MRC Human Genetics Unit, Professor Hastie played an active and inspirational role in the careers of hundreds of research scientists and continues to do so through the Fund. A committee of current IGMM researchers assessed the applications to select the winners.

We recently spoke with Patricia and Mari Carmen to find out more about their awards.


Patricia Heyn

Postdoctoral Researcher, Andrew Jackson Research Group, MRC Human Genetics Unit

What is your research focus?

“Control of organism size is a fundamental question in biology, yet our understanding of its regulation remains limited. Human disorders of extreme growth dysregulation are often caused by mutations affecting cell cycle regulators, DNA repair or replication factors. Standing apart is a group of chromatin modifiers that if mutated can lead to overgrowth or dwarfism. By studying these mutations and genes I want to understand how chromatin modifiers regulate organism size in health and disease. In addition, studying how these mutations influence the chromatin landscape can help us discover new aspects of genome regulation.”

 How will the Hastie Career Advancement Fund contribute to your work?

“Our previous work indicates that a group of genes, which are regulated by the chromatin modifier PRC2, plays an important part in the dysregulation of organism size. Yet we do not currently know how PRC2 influences growth regulation. The funds from the Hastie Career Advancement Fund will allow me to study PRC2 in a series of patient cells and therefore help to answer how PRC2 dysregulation might cause human growth disorders.”

 What makes the Hastie Career Advancement Fund an important initiative for people at your career stage?

“Writing research grants and acquiring research funding is an important part of an independent research career.  The Hastie Career Advancement Fund Initiative provides early career researchers with the opportunity to propose small independent projects to generate preliminary data for an independent research career. This transition from the postdoctoral researcher stage to an independent scientific investigator is very challenging. Having regular individual meetings with Professor Hastie to get his advice and career support is therefore a unique mentoring opportunity which is rare to find and very valuable.”


Mari Carmen Ortega Liebana

Postdoctoral Researcher, Asier Unciti-Broceta Research Group, Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre

What is your research focus?

“My research is focusing on exploring novel drug delivery approaches to supplement conventional therapeutics, preventing damage to healthy tissues and drug resistance, as well as increasing the delivery efficacy. Specifically, my objective is to develop a technological platform of biocompatible catalytically-active gold (Au) nanoparticles, enabling the local targeted activation within the central nervous system of ‘protected’ bioactive drug precursors administered system-wide, via novel Au-mediated de-protection chemistry. I am systematically designing both catalysts and ‘protected’ non-toxic drugs, and their validation in cell culture and zebrafish.”

How will the Hastie Career Advancement Fund contribute to your work?

“This highly innovative approach aims at developing a unique and safe clinical tool to release bioactive molecules in exact anatomical locations with applications in pain management - as a local analgesic therapy for chronic neuropathic pain due to injuries or cancer. However, for clinical applications, it is highly desirable to precisely control when, where, and to what extent the process goes. The award fund will be destined to synthesize and test an Au-based catalyst system capable of mediating drug release in living systems through external activation using light irradiation. I am sure that this innovation will both reduce systemic toxicity, time and treatment improvement, impacting on the reduction of the health and the economic burden of cancer and neurodegenerative disorder, as well as boost its adoption by the pharmaceutical industry.”

 What makes the Hastie Career Advancement Fund an important initiative for people at your career stage?

“This challenge is a great opportunity to initiate a parallel thread of research with a wealth of translational applications, having the opportunity to lead in a new area of research and develop my career as a budding independent early career researcher. This, combined with the opportunity to have the help, advice and support of Professor Nick Hastie will be vital to learning how to think outside the box and to have different overview.”


To find out more about the Hastie Career Advancement Fund or for information on how to donate, visit the Hastie Legacy webpage.