Anna Wilkins

Anna Wilkins, Crick postdoctoral clinical fellow in Erik Sahai’s lab, now Clinician Scientist, ICR and Visiting Scientist, The Francis Crick Institute. 


Anna Wilkins

Anna Wilkins, Crick postdoctoral clinical fellow, Erik Sahai’s lab

I’ve recently begun a postdoc in Erik Sahai’s lab and am working on the crosstalk between tumour cells and cancer-associated fibroblasts in response to treatment with radiotherapy.

My PhD was centred around a clinical trial in prostate radiotherapy which involved wet lab work for translational aspects of my thesis. However, I have had minimal experience of pre-clinical techniques, including cell culture, prior to starting at the Crick and so I’m pleased to be developing these new skills.

As I’ve just completed my Certificate of Specialist Training in Clinical Oncology I’m working at the Crick full time without clinical commitments (although clinical training can be done alongside the postdoc if desired), and I hope to obtain a Clinician Scientist post in the future.

The Crick has a collaborative feel and I get the impression that my scientist colleagues value the clinical perspective I can bring to the lab

I’m really enjoying the postdoc – the building alone is inspiring! The Crick has a collaborative feel and I get the impression that my scientist colleagues value the clinical perspective I can bring to the lab, as well as my capacity to facilitate access to clinical samples.

There are superb training opportunities at the Crick. So far, I’ve received formal training in cell culture, microscopy and image analysis and there’s opportunities for much more. There is also a really wide range of high quality lectures, Interest Groups and academic workshops that we are encouraged to attend regularly.

This means that the first couple of months of my postdoc have been highly educational. I’ve had a lot of help from the High Throughput Screening Suite already, and can see that some of the other Science Technology Platforms are likely to be helpful in the future. 
I’d really encourage people to consider applying to the clinical postdoc scheme – there are a number of career-enhancing opportunities that are unique to the Crick, not to mention excellent collaborative possibilities.

Update Autumn 2023:
A few years later, I’m delighted to be continuing as a member of the Sahai group at the Crick as a Visiting Scientist whilst I move towards setting up my own independent research group. After a couple of years as a postdoctoral fellow at the Crick, I obtained a Clinician Scientist post at the ICR, and for around 40% of this time, I am seconded to the Crick. I am also an Honorary Consultant Clinical Oncologist at the Royal Marsden Hospital treating patients with bladder and prostate cancer with drugs and radiotherapy. 

The Crick has had a flexible approach to how and when I work on science projects at the Crick. This has really supported my transition from postdoctoral fellow towards independence. I’ve also been able to continue to learn new skills and further develop research projects, two of which are now being written up for publication. I think there are exceptional opportunities to use cutting edge technologies at the Crick which obviously helps inform scientific discovery. At the moment it’s very interesting to be developing NanoString Digital Spatial Profiling and Imaging Mass Cytometry to better understand how the tumour microenvironment is modified following radiotherapy.

It’s also been exciting to combine insights from a big clinical trial of prostate radiotherapy, led by colleagues at the ICR, with computational biology expertise at the Crick. We won a grant to help fund the project team which has performed AI modelling of the extracellular matrix. Our results suggest some extracellular matrix features associate with recurrence which might inform future clinical decision-making in localised prostate cancer. 

I also enjoy sharing clinical insights with colleagues; opportunities to do this at the Crick have sometimes emerged from unexpected directions. It’s great to be able to help scientists realise the full clinical relevance of their research, which usually involves a lively discussion!