Rahul Bhome, Crick postdoctoral clinical fellow in Erik Sahai’s lab and NIHR Clinical Lecturer in Surgery
At the back end of my PhD, I decided to pursue a short postdoc, to explore some unanswered research questions, broaden my technical skill set, and bridge the gap between PhD student and (junior) group leader. The Crick’s first call for clinical postdoctoral fellows in 2018 came at an opportune time.
I qualified at UCL and followed an academic clinical training pathway, progressing from Academic Foundation Programme to Academic Clinical Fellowship to Clinical Lectureship. Quite early on, I decided to train in Colorectal Surgery, mainly because this subspecialty offers comparatively excellent outcomes for cancer patients.
As a junior registrar, I was fortunate enough to obtain an MRC fellowship, to complete a PhD in the CRUK Southampton Centre. My thesis explored the reciprocal interaction between tumour and stromal compartments in colorectal cancer progression. In order to continue on this theme, I was keen to join a lab with a strong focus on tumour microenvironment. I was kindly introduced to Dr Erik Sahai and his lab at the Crick by Professor Peter Johnson (Director, Crick Cancer Research Network).
Despite surgery being so effective in early stage colorectal cancer, approximately one fifth of patients present with metastatic disease, which is far less amenable to curative resection. With this in mind, Dr Sahai and I devised a project to investigate tumour-host interactions in colorectal liver and lung metastasis. We factored in the time available, aimed to capitalise on expertise at the Crick (and its partner institutions) and considered the skills and datasets that would help me establish an independent research career.
Half way through my 12 months, I can safely say that I am enjoying my time in the Sahai lab. The infrastructure of the group meant that I was trained in the appropriate techniques in a timely fashion. I was able to perform experiments for an overlapping study whilst I developed my own models. I have become proficient in the application of mass cytometry to identify signalling changes in co-culture systems (Tape Lab, UCL). Never in my postgraduate career have I had so many opportunities to learn. The Crick provides dedicated teaching in technical (microscopy, flow cytometry, programming) and non-technical (postdoc to group leader programme) skills, almost on a daily basis. Coupled with this are the weekly interest group meetings and Crick Lectures (by international field leaders), quarterly Medicine at the Crick events and annual/ biennial conferences (Autumn Science Meeting, Crick Cancer Conference).
I would strongly recommend a clinical postdoc at the Crick. In a modest amount of time, there is ample opportunity to learn one or more specific techniques to take back to your base institution, generate data for a manuscript or grant and develop scientific partnerships for the future. Finally, I must take the opportunity to thank Dr Sahai for hosting me so generously, Professor Johnson for encouraging me to apply and of course, my family, for their enduring support.