Crick clinician scientists awarded new fellowships

Clinical group leaders Sonia Gandhi and Samra Turajlic have received £4 million in competitive new fellowships from the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK to support their work on Parkinson’s disease and kidney cancer.

Sonia Gandhi

Sonia Gandhi

Sonia Gandhi leads the Crick’s Neurodegeneration Biology Laboratory and studies Parkinson’s disease using human stem cells and a combination of biophysical, chemical, and biological techniques. She’s currently on secondment at the Crick from UCL and splits her time between the Crick lab and the National Hospital working with patients with neurological diseases.

Receiving the MRC’s Senior Clinician Fellowship will allow her team to continue their work on understanding the fundamental causes of Parkinson’s disease. Last year, Sonia led work by an international team to discover how clumps of the protein alpha-synuclein causes neurons to die in Parkinson’s disease. The findings were true for both forms of the disease – the rare ‘hereditary’ Parkinson’s which is passed down through a family, and the common ‘sporadic’ Parkinson’s which is complex and multifactorial.

“I’m delighted to have received the fellowship and I’m looking forward to expanding our work and delving deeper into the causes of the disease,” says Sonia.

Samra Turajlic

Samra Turajlic

“We’ll be focusing on piecing together the molecular causes of inherited Parkinson’s disease, with the aim of applying what we find to both variations of the disease. We hope that understanding the common mechanisms or links between different forms of disease will reveal new approaches and targets for therapy.”

Samra Turajlic heads up the Crick’s Cancer Dynamics Laboratory which focuses on understanding cancer evolution. Samra’s Cancer Research UK Advanced Clinician Scientist Fellowship will allow her to continue the group’s work on kidney cancer, with the aim of dramatically changing patient outcomes. Samra is also a Medical Oncologist at the Royal Marsden and works with kidney cancer patients.

One of the biggest challenges in oncology is predicting the trajectory of each individual case. The characteristics of kidney cancer in particular can vary widely, from very slow-moving to extremely aggressive. Samra’s work to date has shown that kidney tumours seem to follow a set number of evolutionary paths, each with their own pattern of genetic changes.

Samra’s fellowship will allow her and her team to investigate the ‘weak points’ in these paths that could lead to new treatments. She will be collaborating with a number of scientists at the Crick and internationally to achieve this.

“Our work to date shows that we could potentially be able to predict the path of every patient’s disease. The fellowship will allow us to investigate the dynamics that drive the evolution of both sporadic and inherited kidney cancers and reveal new treatment options for patients,” says Samra.

“We are also working on practical ways to measure cancer evolution in the clinic so that we can really widen our understanding in more patients and of more cancer types. I’m thrilled to continue working so closely with Cancer Research UK.”

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