Danielle Hilton_MSc Alumni Profile

Programme: MSc Cancer and Molecular Pathology & Genomics

Year of study: 2018-2019

Current role: Final year MBBS student, Queen Mary University of London

Danielle Hilton

What made you decide to study the MSc Cancer and Molecular Pathology & Genomics programme at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London?

When I lived at Dawson Hall in my first year of medical school, I remember seeing the BCI buildings, and members of staff discussing their research in The Shield café and feeling as though I desperately wanted to be involved somehow. A year on, I applied for an Ian Hart Vacation Scholarship which sponsored me to complete a month-long research apprenticeship where I worked with Professor Louise Jones on extracting genomic data from breast cancer samples. It’s fair to say I was not disappointed and felt utterly inspired during my short time at the BCI that Summer.

I remember Professor Jones mentioning that there was an MSc programme which would be perfect for me and my interests, but that at the time it wasn’t available as an intercalated degree for medical students. However, it should so just happen that when I came to apply for intercalated programmes after my 3rd year of medicine, the programme opened for applications for intercalation the following year. The idea of doing an MSc was a bit daunting but I was excited to gain a real research insight and learn more about the topics in much more depth.

What aspects did you enjoy most about the programme?

For me, I think studying bioinformatics was my personal highlight. Getting to grips with new software, writing code and analysing genetic information is well beyond the scope of anything I had done before. It is fascinating how much biological research you can perform from a computer with the breadth of genomic data that has now entered the public domain.

What was the focus of your dissertation as part of the MSc programme?

The focus of my MSc dissertation centred around the role of a receptor known as c-Met. Several studies had shown an association between cancer patients who became resistant to chemotherapy and the overexpression of this receptor. That said, there had been summative analysis of the literature surrounding this. This attracted the attention of Dr Stephanie Kermorgant and her team, who study the interactions and function of the c-Met receptor and the role it plays in various malignancies. As one of the members of the staff involved in tutoring students on the MSc programme, Dr Kermorgant advertised this topic as one that could be taken as a dissertation piece. I was keen to get involved and we worked closely during my MSc to create a comprehensive review. This review was then taken as a draft and worked on by myself and the rest of Dr Kermorgant’s team, and I’m happy to announce that it’s been published in Oncogene (Nature), something which I am hugely proud of. The hope is that it will provide a great overview, which may help target further research, and improve patient outcomes in the future.

How do you think your MSc will help you with your current role / future career path?

Currently, I am considering a career in Clinical Genetics or academic medicine after I graduate this year. The MSc programme itself, and the publication from it helped secure my preferred jobs for my junior doctor training posts. These achievements will also help me to stand out at interview for applications to specialist training further down the line. But over and above that, it’s allowed me to network with such a huge variety of people from different fields, and I’ve no doubt many of them will continue to influence me and inspire me for many years to come.

Do you have any advice for prospective students who are considering this course?

I would say don’t hesitate. I was initially worried that I would really struggle and that I might not be cut out for the hard work ahead of me. The truth is, all the staff are so incredibly supportive, your colleagues are all in it with you, and if you work hard you can do brilliantly. You also get to study in such a wonderful environment at Charterhouse Square with real innovation going on around you, I can only highly recommend it.