Postgraduate Study
Edinburgh: Extraordinary Futures Await

World Cancer Day 2021

Read about some of the amazing cancer-related research being done by our staff and postgraduate students.

In recognition of World Cancer Day, we asked our amazing staff and postgraduate researchers to tell us what they're working on at the moment.

Scroll down the list below to find out more about some of the cancer-related research going on in our College. 


Dr Andy Sims

Senior Lecturer and Group Leader, Applied Bioinformatics of Cancer, CRUK Edinburgh Centre, MRC IGMM

Dr Andy Sims

Dr Sims is both a cancer researcher AND stage IV melanoma patient.

I lead a research group analysing breast cancer data from patients to work out which patients should receive which drugs for best outcomes.

A minor change to a mole on my collar bone in 2019 revealed malignant melanoma that spread rapidly to my brain.

Thankfully new drugs are currently working and I’m remarkably well. 

Sims Group

Please note: Andy Sims will be hosting an event 'Shining a Light on Cancer - Living with Melanoma' at 4pm on Thursday 4th February. This is an online internal event for staff and students at the IGMM. Please e-mail Dee Davison for the Zoom meeting link. 


Scott Waddell

Scott Waddell

PhD student, MRC Human Genetics Unit, MRC IGMM

Scott is a PhD student studying cholangiocarcinoma, cancer of the bile ducts in the liver. He looks at cilia – small, hair-like structures on the surface of cells that act as antennae to receive signals from the cell environment – and how they contribute to cancer development. 

Scott Waddell profile

Boulter Group

Mill Group



Ailith Ewing

Dr Ailith Ewing

UKRI Innovation Fellow (Chancellor’s Fellow from April 2021), MRC Human Genetics Unit & CRUK Edinburgh Centre, MRC IGMM

Dr Ewing's research brings novel statistical and computational approaches to cancer genomics at the IGMM, exploiting the explosion of genomic data generated from cancer patient cohorts and enabling the stratification of patients for therapies.

Edinburgh Cancer Centre

MRC Human Genetics Unit


Kelly Blacklock

Dr Kelly Blacklock

Research Fellow & Senior Lecturer in Small Animal Surgery, MRC Human Genetics Unit, MRC IGMM & Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

In collaboration with the Liz Patton Research Group, Dr Blacklock is researching into canine oral melanoma, a common and devastating naturally-occurring cancer in the dog which may have huge translational potential for human mucosal melanoma.

Liz Patton Research Group

Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies




Lea Lemler

Lea Lemler

PhD Student - MRC Precision Medicine Doctoral Training Programme, MRC Human Genetics Unit, MRC IGMM

Lea is a PhD student working within the Colon Cancer Genetics Group. Her PhD research question is: “Can we predict Colorectal Cancer Survival based on Gene Expression in Normal Colorectal Mucosa?”

Lea Lemler profile

Dunlop Group

Evropi Theodoratou

Maria Timofeeva


Lucija Klaric

Lucija Klaric

UKRI Innovation Fellow, MRC Human Genetics Unit, MRC IGMM

Lucija's analysis of ORCADES DNA sequence data points to a rare change in the BRCA1 gene that can increase risk of breast & ovarian cancer. 

This is found in some people from one of the islands, but the results are relevant beyond Orkney, due to a history of emigration. We are now investigating with NHS clinical geneticists whether offering genetic screening for this variant might be appropriate.


QTL Group



Xue Li

Dr Xue Li

Research Fellow, CRUK Edinburgh Centre, MRC IGMM & Usher Institute

Dr Li's research question is focusing on the use of new-generation biological “omics” data (GWAS data, epigenetics & metabolomics data) for risk prediction of colorectal cancer (CRC). A non-invasive method for risk stratification can improve the early detection of CRC and significantly reduce CRC associated mortality.

Evropi Theodoratou











Susan Farrington

Dr Susan M Farrington

Reader & Group Leader of Colorectal Cancer Genetics Group, CRUK Edinburgh Centre, MRC IGMM 

Dr Farrington's work involves identifying and understanding colorectal cancer risk factors, both genetic and environmental, the interplay between them and how we can improve diagnosis and prognosis.

Farrington Group - Colorectal Cancer Genetics





Kathleen in the lab

Dr Kathleen Duffin

Paediatric Doctor and PhD Student 

I am a paediatric doctor, and I’m currently doing a PhD focusing on fertility in childhood cancer patients. Survival rates for childhood cancer are now over 80%, but unfortunately a common side effect of cancer treatment is loss of fertility. I am aiming to learn more about how chemotherapy affects the pre-pubertal testis, as well as learning more about fertility preservation options for children being treated for cancer.

Kathleen Duffin profile

Spears Lab  





Ainhoa Gonzalez Urionabarrenetxea

PhD Student, CRUK Edinburgh Centre, MRC IGMM and International Centre for Cancer Vaccine Science, University of Gdansk

Ainhoa is a joint PhD student at the ECRC and the ICCVS studying the role of ISG15, a ubiquitin-like protein, involved in the regulation of a wide range of cellular processes in different cancer cell models, with a special focus on its role in tumour therapy resistance. 

Ball Group




Neil Robertson

Neil Robertson

PhD Student - MRC Precision Medicine Doctoral Training Programme, MRC IGMM  

Neil's work focuses on trying to understand changes in the genome and its maintenance that give rise to small somatic clones - a foundational step in the development of cancer.

He is trying to understand the effects of a series of mutations that commonly arise in older people - key drivers of cancers that affect the blood, bone marrow and lymph nodes.

Chandra Group 










Dr Tamir Chandra

Chancellor’s Fellow & Group Leader, Systems Biology of Ageing and Disease, MRC Human Genetics Unit, MRC IGMM 

Dr Chandra's research group is trying to understand how advanced age increases the risk of cancer, and how our bodies manage to stop most cancers before they emerge.  

Chandra Group










Aslihan Bastem

Aslihan Bastem

PhD student, MRC IGMM, CRUK Edinburgh Centre 

Aslihan is a PhD student in Kevin Myant’s Lab and she is studying epitranscriptomics – the biochemical modifications of RNA that occur in early and advanced models of colorectal cancer.

Her research focuses on exploring how these affect the development of colorectal cancer and their potential for new forms of treatment. 

Myant Group

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John McKendrick

PhD student, Emmerson Lab, Centre for Regenerative Medicine

John McKendrick in the lab

John’s PhD project focusses on trying to better understand salivary gland injury and the potential for regeneration following radiotherapy for head and neck cancer. 

Radiotherapy is routinely used as a life-saving treatment for people with cancer. However, whilst it is effective at targeting a cancerous tumour, it can also damage neighbouring healthy tissue. In patients with head and neck cancer, the salivary glands are often damaged as a side-effect, and this leads to the destruction of cells which produce saliva.

This then leads to chronic dry mouth problems, which affect speaking and eating. Therefore, understanding the effects of radiation on the cells of the salivary gland would help in identifying/discovering new ways to repair and regenerate the damaged tissue.

Ultimately, this would improve greatly the quality of life of people who have had radiotherapy for head or neck cancer.

Macrophages are cells of the immune system which are present in all tissues, including the salivary glands. They help in the repair and regeneration of tissue. Thus, they may have an important role in salivary gland regeneration.

However, macrophages may change how they behave if they become damaged. John’s PhD work has been to characterise macrophages in mouse and human salivary gland, and determine how their behaviour changes after irradiation.

Ultimately, this will help us to develop regenerative strategies for head and neck cancer patients suffering from chronic dry mouth.



Marion Bacou

Marion Bacou

PhD Student, Carmel Moran Research Group

Lymph nodes are the target organs primarily reached by metastatic cells that detach from a solid tumour. To ensure effective cancer treatment, it is therefore essential to determine whether metastases is present in these structures.

Our multidisciplinary team based at University of Strathclyde, University of Edinburgh and Lund University and funded by CRUK is developing a novel Contrast-Enhanced Magnetomotive Ultrasound imaging system to image these lymph nodes with high spatial resolution to determine their metastatic status.

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