Last Thursday was International Women’s Day- a day that celebrates the social, political, cultural and economic achievements of women from all over the world. Recently, an inspirational woman, Seema Jaswal- a television and radio presenter- visited us here at the Barts Cancer Institute (BCI) to meet some of our researchers and find out more about the cutting edge research that goes on here.
Seema’s TV career began at Sky Sports where she worked as a Runner before receiving her first presenting job on CBBC Sports Round. Seema’s successful career has since seen her host a variety of events, including the Indian Super League, India’s FIFA U17 World Cup and the Premier League. Last year, Seema was named as one of We Are The City’s Inspirational Women.
Seema became passionate about supporting Cancer Research UK after visiting a charity in India called ‘Dishoom to Cancer’ that cares for terminally ill children and their families.
Seema (pictured right) said: "I am very excited to be supporting Cancer Research UK, and today came to Barts Cancer Institute to meet Professor Kairbaan Hodivala-Dilke and her team. Professor Kairbaan is a hugely inspirational woman and it has been amazing to see the work that her and her team are doing to beat cancer sooner. This summer I am joining many other inspirational women and taking part in Race For Life, where all the money raised will fund Cancer Research UK’s lifesaving research into all 200 cancers, bringing forward the day when all cancers are cured."
Seema was taken for a tour of the laboratory by our Deputy Institute Director Prof Kairbaan Hodivala-Dilke, Centre for Tumour Biology. Prof Hodivala-Dilke’s laboratory works on how the environment around tumour cells helps cancer to grow. Just like any organ in the body, cancer needs a blood supply. By trying to discover new ways of altering the molecular makeup of blood vessels, their work highlights novel ways to control cancer growth and sensitivity to chemotherapy.
Seema had the chance to speak with Dr Ibrahim Al Bakir (pictured left), a Gastroenterology Clinical Research Fellow based in the Centre for Tumour Biology. Dr Al Bakir’s work aims to identify changes in patients with colitis that may predispose them to developing colitis-associated colorectal cancer. By testing biopsy samples, he endeavours to develop a test that will be able to predict which patients with colitis are more likely to develop colorectal cancer.
As part of the laboratory tour, Seema also met Dr Katiuscia Bianchi, Centre for Molecular Oncology, whose group looks at possible mechanisms by which inflammation drives cancer, focusing in particular on obesity and breast cancer. Obesity is associated with low-level chronic inflammation and Dr Bianchi’s group are investigating the possibility that targeting inflammation might reduce the risk of developing breast cancer in obese patients.
During her visit, Seema was able to take a look at cells from breast cancer samples under the microscope that had been stained for a protein that drives breast cancer. By studying such samples, Dr Bianchi’s group hope to understand the mechanism by which this protein induces breast cancer and identify new therapeutic targets.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and so is a particular focus of research here at Barts. Breast cancer accounted for 15% of all new cancer cases in 2015- 1 in 8 women and 1 in 870 men are diagnosed with the disease during their lifetime.
Women face particular challenges in science- according to a 2017 UNESCO report, less than 30% of the world’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) researchers are women.
Women have made significant contributions to science throughout history and continue to do so today. Here at the BCI, a lot of our research is conducted by dedicated women who are experts in their field. Currently, approximately 40% of the group leaders here at Barts are women, and we hope to see this number continue to rise.
International Women’s Day marks a day for us to celebrate the personal and professional achievements of women not just in science, but in all disciplines. Thank you to all of the inspiring women here at Barts and everywhere!