Winning the Schachter Award

Published: 12 Jul 2019

I was fortunate enough to be chosen as a recipient of the Schachter Award by the
British Pharmacological Society in March 2019. This award is designed to enable
postgraduate members of the society to visit a laboratory to learn a new technique
not available to them at their home institution. Receiving the Schachter Award
afforded me the fantastic opportunity to spend three weeks working with the
Liverpool Ocular Oncology Research Group at the University of Liverpool, one of
the leading ocular oncology research centres in the UK and indeed, in the world.

I am a second year PhD student within the Ocular Pharmacology and Genetics Group at University College Dublin under the supervision of Prof. Breandán Kennedy. My PhD research focuses on uveal melanoma, a rare, but often devastating form of ocular cancer that will metastasize to the liver in 50% of patients. Despite the rare nature of this disease, it is the primary intraocular tumour that occurs in adults, and Britain and the Republic of Ireland have some of the highest rates of the disease in the world.

Uveal melanoma and its associated liver metastasis are known to respond extremely poorly to currently available chemotherapeutic drugs, with no proven standard of care available for metastatic patients. Unfortunately, the prognosis for metastatic uveal melanoma patients is very bleak, as few as 8% of patients will survive beyond 2 years once the disease has spread. As such, there is an urgent unmet clinical need to identify new therapeutic agents and to determine which patients are likely to respond. Specifically, my research investigates the role of specific G-protein coupled receptors in uveal melanoma, and their potential as pharmacological therapeutic targets for the treatment of the disease.

While working at the University of Liverpool I learned the technique of immunohistochemical staining of uveal melanoma patient samples. Our goal was to examine the expression and localisation of our receptors of interest in uveal melanoma tumour tissue as the expression and localisation of these receptors has been found to have prognostic value in other cancer types. The opportunity to learn and conduct immunohistochemistry at the University of Liverpool Ocular Oncology Research Group was a unique and exciting opportunity due to their access to a large biobank of archived uveal melanoma tissue samples and associated clinical data, and due to their experience and expertise in staining and interpreting uveal melanoma patient material.

During my three-week visit, we optimised staining conditions for two antibodies using different control tissues and carried out staining for both G-protein coupled receptors on over 50 different uveal melanoma tumour samples.  We saw that both receptors were expressed in the majority of patient samples that were stained and that one receptor in particular correlated with some pathological features of the disease and showed an interesting relationship with patient survival.  Based on the findings of this research we have decided to continue staining additional uveal melanoma patient samples, both here in Dublin and in Liverpool, to strengthen our findings are further investigate the relationship between the receptor expression and the clinical features of uveal melanoma.

Optimisation of staining conditions for both antibodies using control and uveal melanoma tissue samples

Histological section of a formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded enucleated eye from a uveal melanoma patient stained for one of the GPCRs of interest. A mushroom shaped choroidal melanoma can be seen with positive staining for the receptor.

My trip to the University of Liverpool was a massive success, I have returned to Dublin with a wealth of knowledge about uveal melanoma pathology and immunohistochemical analysis. As the Ocular Oncology Research group works closely with the medical team at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, I gained exposure to the clinical side of uveal melanoma and was extremely fortunate to gain a more patient-centred view of the disease. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Liverpool, both inside and outside of the lab. I would like to give my sincere thanks to everyone at the Liverpool Ocular Oncology Research group for being so welcoming and helpful throughout my entire stay. In particular, I would like to thank Prof. Sarah Coupland and Dr. Helen Kalirai, for welcoming me into the lab and for sharing their immense knowledge of uveal melanoma with me. It was fantastic to learn from the experts in this research area. I am extremely grateful to the BPS for this wonderful opportunity. The Schachter Award has allowed me to learn both technical and personal skills that I will apply throughout the remainder of my PhD research and beyond. I would strongly encourage any postgraduate members seeking to learn a new technique to apply for this valuable opportunity.


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