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The Institute of Cancer Research: Royal Cancer Hospital

Information for Rob’s ARTTT Funding a researcher to study DSRCT

Profile: Dr Barbara Villarejo Balcells Job title: Higher Scientific Officer Research Section of the ICR: Molecular Carcinogenesis Principal Investigator: Dr Janet Shipley

Barbara, can you tell us a bit about your background? I am Spanish and I came to the UK to study Immunology and Microbiology in King’s College, London. It was there where I first became interested in genetics and in understanding how genes that aren’t working properly can cause or increase your chances of developing cancer. Because of this I came to The Institute of Cancer Research to do my PhD. During that time I studied the genetics of a paediatric cancer called Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma which affects mainly teenagers. I am now working as a Higher Scientific Officer in the section of Molecular Carcinogenesis where I continue to study paediatric cancers with an emphasis on finding insights that will help develop more successful therapies. What attracted you to work at the ICR? What attracted me the most was the fact that the ICR was, and continues to be, at the forefront of cancer research. It is a world leading cancer institution and a very unique place to work since we have such an amazing range of disciplines all working towards one goal: to cure cancer. What makes it even more special is the fact that we work in partnership with The Royal Marsden Hospital, which means that we really get a sense of being part of the bigger picture and of really making a difference to patients’ lives. Can you tell us about your main areas of interest in cancer research? I’m interested in the genetics behind cancer, in particular, I’m interested in cases where there are genomic alterations including chromosomal translocations. This occurs when chromosomes break and instead of joining their other half, they join the “wrong” chromosome. There are many cancers that contain chromosomal translocations, some are relatively common (such as certain types of leukaemia), some are relatively infrequent (such as alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma) and some are

extremely rare (such as desmoplastic small round cell tumours), but all are devastating to those who suffer from them and to their families. Can you explain more about your role within the paediatric oncology department? I am a Higher Scientific Officer and one of my roles at the moment is to study genes that are modified in cancer. Some of these modifications include genes that are overabundant (amplified) and genes that arise from chromosomal translocations. How will the research ultimately help young patients with DSRCT? The hope is to understand how these modified genes contribute to cancer and study whether blocking them prevents cancer cells from growing. We can test this in different cancer cells including those from sarcomas and Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumours (DSRCT) and this is important as it will give us an insight into potential new targets for therapy for a variety of tumours. Have you enjoyed a particular ‘eureka’ moment in your career/studies so far? Yes, it was during my PhD when I generated a complex DNA molecule that simulates a chromosomal translocation found in Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma. This was very important because we now have a fantastic tool that we can use to study many aspects of Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcomas. What are your research/career aims going forward? During my time in The Institute of Cancer Research I have had the opportunity to work on the genetics of specific sarcomas. My current aim is to gain a better understanding on how to translate the molecular basis of cancers into better targets for therapy. My long term aim is to play an important part in contributing to eradicate cancer with an emphasis on paediatric tumours. And finally, what do you enjoy doing away from the labs? I try to keep active by joining all sorts of dance classes, going swimming and pretending to play badminton with friends.

We remain extremely grateful to Rob’s ARTTT for the pledge £100,000 towards funding Barbara’s role over 3 years. If you would like any further information about the research, please don’t hesitate to contact me on the details below. Thomas

Thomas Bland - Senior Manager, Trusts and Foundations E:, Tel: +44 (0) 20 7153 5218 / 020 8722 4200, W:

Barbara's interview  

Interview with the new research for ROBSARTTT