In this section you’ll find testimonials from recipients of BSH grants. These testimonials show how our grants have helped them achieve goals, create networks and further their research.
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Have you received a BSH grant and want to share your experience in a text or video format? Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our 2020 Annual Scientific Meeting will be held in Birmingham from 27-29 April. We will be offering Abstract Scholarships, Travel Scholarships and new for 2020, Travel Scholarships for Nurses.
We have selected some reports from our ASM grant ambassadors who told us about their experience and learning at the 2019 Annual Scientific Meeting in Glasgow.
"It’s always best to keep abreast of upcoming changes – the future could look very different!"
Karen Desay, Biomedical Scientist, NHS Blood and Transplant
I was very grateful to receive an abstract scholarship from BSH to attend the 2019 ASM in Glasgow. This gave me a platform to present my research in front of, and be questioned by, world renowned experts in the field. I came away with new ideas, a sharpened focus and a renewed vigour to continue research on genotyping haemoglobinopathy patients to reduce rates of alloimmunisation.
As a biomedical scientist, I don’t have any patient contact. This conference expanded my horizons beyond the lab and gave me a greater appreciation of the clinical aspects of disease and the applications of our work. It has informed all of my subsequent writing and teaching on my topics of interest. I particularly enjoyed the informal nature of the “Meet the Expert” sessions. They provided both simulating discussion and a fantastic opportunity to ask questions you might not in a large auditorium.
The conference also highlighted the cutting edge of clinical science. Dr. Alexis A. Thompson, Head of Hematology at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and Professor of Pediatrics at the Northwester University Feinberg School of Medicine presented the latest results from clinical trials on gene therapy in haemoglobinopathy patients. This represents a really exciting advancement which could transform the treatment of these patients. I also enjoyed the Novartis Sponsored Symposia entitled “Artificial Intelligence to reimagine haematology treatment”. It’s always best to keep abreast of upcoming changes – the future could look very different!
I’d really recommend the BSH ASM to all scientists and clinicians alike and I look forward to seeing what is in store next year.
"This conference has also provided me the opportunity to meet supportive mentors who are keen to teach and inspire the next generation of Haematologists."
Tricia Tay, Medical Student, University of Manchester
When I saw Dr A.V. Hoffbrand well-up in tears on receiving his lifetime achievement award, I too welled up in tears to receive this invaluable opportunity of being awarded this grant to attend the inaugural BSH 59th Annual Scientific Meeting.
I am grateful for this opportunity to present on behalf of my team in Singapore on the treatment of Natural Killer/T-cell lymphoma in Singapore. As a medical student, it is a sheer delight to attend and present a poster in my first haematology conference. With this scholarship, I have received invaluable feedback on the study we did and areas of improvement for our future projects. Observing how other presenters shared their presentations and subsequently presenting in this conference have improved my presentation skills. This has improved my confidence in presenting and stepping out of my comfort zone to seek constructive feedback on the poster and study design. This has also been pivotal in shaping the future of our study as we begin writing the article for publication.
In addition, this meeting has enhanced my understanding of the wider field of Haematology and lymphoma. The session on ‘Making Sense of Haematology’ for Senior Medical students and other professionals was a great session to build a strong foundation in the basics of Haematology before the start of the conference. We covered a range of topics that Foundation doctors should be competent in dealing with - from reading full blood counts to dealing with haematological emergencies. Interprofessional working was at the heart of the small group teaching as we applied our experience and knowledge into answering the questions with highly supportive tutors. As many of the participants felt that they were not sufficiently prepared for haematology in most of their curriculum, we brainstormed on how we can tackle the stigma and improve the knowledge of our peers in this speciality because haematology is vital in every speciality.
As I am interested in education and research in Haematology, the session ‘How to future-proof yourself in haematology’ improved my understanding of how trainees can participate in research and education. At the end of the day, patients value the clinician in front of them more than the research that is ongoing in the laboratory or in front of the computer - and it is the role of the clinician to bridge the gap from bench to bedside. This conference has also provided me the opportunity to meet supportive mentors who are keen to teach and inspire the next generation of Haematologists.
Attending the ASM felt like I was standing on a cliff – we are at the edge of change in haematology and healthcare in the United Kingdoms and the world. I will highly recommend anyone to attend this conference. I would also like to thank Dr Richard Byers, Haem-pathologist in Manchester Royal Infirmary, for the initial inspiration in Haematology and Dr Tiffany Tang, Haem-Oncologist in National Cancer Centre Singapore, for the opportunity to conduct this study and present on behalf of the team in Singapore.
"At the evening poster moderation session, it was a pleasure to present my poster to moderators, and be involved in discussion with them with regards to some of the challenges involved in quality improvement."
Dr Amelia Fisher, ST4 Haematology Registrar; NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow in Genomics, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, University of Leeds
The British Society of Haematology Abstract Scholarship enabled me to attend the BSH Annual Scientific Meeting 2019, to present the poster ‘Reducing Inappropriate Blood Testing in Haematology Inpatients: A Multi-Centre Quality Improvement Project’.
During a very enjoyable day (in which I was also a speaker for the ‘Crucible Prize’ session) I attended the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR): Better Blood Research session. As a NIHR academic clinical fellow trainee it was brilliant to hear how all grades of Haematologist are being engaged by NIHR to bring Haematology research and audit not just to teaching hospitals, but to any hospital with willing participants. This idea has been embraced by HaemSTAR, as highlighted in the ‘Trainees propelling blood research’ talk by David Tucker. I have been fortunate to be a member of HaemSTAR and David gave an excellent summary of how we are encouraging trainee participation in audit and research across the country.
One speaker who I found particularly inspirational was Dr Charlotte Bradbury who spoke about being a ‘Young Consultant initiating blood research’; a position I hope to find myself in, in future. From my experience as both a Haematology Registrar in Leeds, and as a member of HaemSTAR, I was aware of the FLIGHT trial1 that Dr Bradbury has led. To hear about the challenges of setting up this trial, from finding the right research question to ask; ethics; funding (especially when developing research involving a generic drug); and collaboration was fascinating. Her experiences also demonstrated how a lot of hard work can pay off – this was a good example of resilience in science! Prior to this session I had not given much thought to the fact that the patients could consent for two optional blood tests for translational research during the trial. As someone with a keen interest in genomics I can see why Dr Bradbury chose to include this a part of the trial because there is a limited amount of genomic data available for ITP patients. The development of translational research to find the underlying mechanisms for disease could prove invaluable for developing more effective therapeutics in future.
At the evening poster moderation session, it was a pleasure to present my poster to moderators, and be involved in discussion with them with regards to some of the challenges involved in quality improvement. Challenges can include continuity of care, adapting a protocol for use at centres with different patient requirements and techniques to encourage the sustainability of changes. I was pleased to received feedback that the project was interesting and the moderators agreed that it is important to rationalise the blood testing we do in Haematology. This has provided me with encouragement to go ahead and write up the study results for submission for publication.
1. Pell J, Greenwood R, Ingram J, Wale K, Thomas I, Kandiyali R, Mumford A, Dick A, Bagot C,7 Nichola Cooper, Hill Q, Bradbury CA, Trial protocol: a multicentre randomised trial of first-line treatment pathways for newly diagnosed immune thrombocytopenia: standard steroid treatment versus combined steroid and mycophenolate. The FLIGHT trial, BMJ Open: first published as 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-024427 on 18 October 2018
"I was very privileged to meet several well-known researchers in this field during the poster session."
Dr Shasha Khairullah, Haematology Trainee, University of Malaya
This was my first BSH Annual Scientific Meeting and hopefully it will not be my last. I gained a lot in terms of the most recent advances in both clinical and laboratory haematology. The focus this year was more towards benign haematology, which I appreciated, as I find this section of haematology more difficult to comprehend in comparison to malignant haematology. The pitfalls day was a comprehensive overview of what is required of a trainee and I benefitted a lot from it. I have a special interest in thalassaemia and therefore, was pleased to hear lectures from Dr Alexis Thompson and Professor John Porter on the success of gene therapy in sickle cell disease and β-thalassaemia(1). This is definitely a big step towards finding cure for these debilitating chronic conditions. I thought the best session was the MacFarlane-Biggs lecture by Professor Mark Crowther from McMaster University on APLS and reversal of anticoagulants. He was brilliant at pointing out that definitive diagnosis of APLS remains elusive, and confirmed my prior learning on the management of this potentially devastating condition. It is in fact remarkable that so little progress has been made in APLS management, despite the advances in other haematological conditions. The CAR T-cell lectures were inspiring, bringing hope for refractory conditions, although of course the costs preclude us adopting this therapy widely in Malaysia at present.
The speakers on the whole were very knowledgeable and were fantastic at delivering their topics. There was adequate breadth and depth of the topics covered.
I would like to thank the BSH for the opportunity to present two posters on thalassaemia at the meeting: one on biomarkers of ineffective erythropoiesis in non-transfusion dependent b-thalassaemia; and one unique case report of moyamoya in a-thalassaemia. I was very privileged to meet several well-known researchers in this field during the poster session.
I enjoyed my stint at the Glasgow BSH in April 2019, and also my brief exposure to Scottish culture and hospitality. I would like to thank the committee for making this trip possible.
1. Thompson AA, Walters MC, Kwiatkowski J, Rasko JEJ, Ribeil JA, Hongeng S, et al. Gene Therapy in Patients with Transfusion-Dependent beta-Thalassemia. N Engl J Med. 2018;378(16):1479-93.
"Throughout the conference I was in close proximity with experts in the field, which provided a great opportunity for in-depth discussion and a feel of current opinion within haematology."
Dr James Adam Austin, Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Liverpool
Firstly, it was rewarding that my research was recognised to merit a travel award grant which enabled me to partake in the BSH conference and join the showcase of excellent research occurring within and outside the UK.
This was my second consecutive year of attending the BSH conference, and another great opportunity to promote and absorb current trends in haematological research. As a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Liverpool, my area of expertise is in myeloid leukaemia and the malignant properties of the oncoprotein CIP2A. CIP2A is overexpressed in many cancers and almost always associated with poor clinical outcome . Through attending the BSH meet I was able to seek out works of interest to help develop my own research ideas. The abstracts chosen by BSH catered for a wide variety of research genres, and the quality of the presentations enabled clear and concise dissection of key messages. This provided an efficient overview of haematology themes and enhanced the context my own research within the field.
Throughout the conference I was in close proximity with experts in the field, which provided a great opportunity for in-depth discussion and a feel of current opinion within haematology. This also provided assurance of the future direction of my own research. This year I was impressed by the top scoring abstract talks in the first ‘Acute Leukaemia’ session, which touched on the hot topic of cancer metabolism. Reprogramming of energy metabolism in cancer is emerging as a means for survival in many leukaemia’s, including both myeloid and lymphoblastic leukaemia’s [2–5]). The presentation, entitled ‘Targeting metabolic vulnerabilities and aberrant signal transduction pathways in paediatric T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (T-ALL)’ presented by Laura Anselmi, was of particular interest, linking commonly mutated genes in T-ALL to metabolic alterations. Many of these changes rewired cellular metabolism towards glycolysis and involved many well-established cell signalling pathways, including AKT and mTORC1 signalling. These metabolic changes were relied upon by these cells and therefore present new vulnerabilities to treat residual disease. The data presented was easy to follow and had clear implications for the future treatment of these diseases.
From attending the BSH conference I gained a wealth of additional information and contacts from which to strengthen future research, and as such will aim to regularly attend the meeting in the future.
1. Lucas, C. M., Harris, R. J., Giannoudis, A., Copland, M., Slupsky, J. R. and Clark, R. E. (2011) Cancerous inhibitor of PP2A (CIP2A) at diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukemia is a critical determinant of disease progression. Blood 117, 6660–6668.
2. Chen, W.-L., Wang, J.-H., Zhao, A.-H., Xu, X., Wang, Y.-H., Chen, T.-L., Li, J.-M., Mi, J.-Q., Zhu, Y.-M., Liu, Y.-F., et al. (2014) A distinct glucose metabolism signature of acute myeloid leukemia with prognostic value. Blood 124, 1645–1654.
3. Kuntz, E. M., Baquero, P., Michie, A. M., Dunn, K., Tardito, S., Holyoake, T. L., Helgason, G. V. and Gottlieb, E. (2017) Targeting mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation eradicates therapy-resistant chronic myeloid leukemia stem cells. Nat. Med. 23, 1234–1240.
4. Galicia-Vázquez, G. and Aloyz, R. (2019) Metabolic rewiring beyond Warburg in chronic lymphocytic leukemia: How much do we actually know? Crit. Rev. Oncol. Hematol. 134, 65–70.
5. Knoechel, B. and Aster, J. C. (2015) Metabolic Mechanisms of Drug Resistance in Leukemia. Cell Metab. 22, 759–760.
Early Stage Research Start-up Grants
Early Stage Research Start-Up Grants are available 30 June and 31 December annually.
The reports below may have had information redacted to ensure the confidentiality of sensitive research information or grant applications. The full reports will be made available once the sensitive content has been published.
"...our now optimised experimental strategy has proved successful and the BSH grant has provided me with the novel and interesting data I require to build a more substantial and long-term research bid."
Wnt/b-catenin signalling is an evolutionary conserved signalling pathway critical for normal development and heavily implicated in human cancer. The central mediator, b-catenin, is frequently overexpressed in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) where its expression is linked with inferior patient survival. Furthermore, well characterised experimental models of AML development have demonstrated b-catenin to play a pivotal role in leukaemogenesis, rendering the protein an ideal therapeutic target.
The stability, subcellular localization and transcriptional activity of the central mediator b-catenin is dictated heavily by proteins interactions. To date, much of its molecular characterisation has been performed in epithelial cells, however b-catenin’s haematopoietic interactome is likely to vary from its epithelial interaction network given its less prominent cell adhesion role (adherens junctions) in blood cells, and the relative scarcity of activating Wnt mutations (APC, Axin and b-catenin) which are frequent in solid tumours, but rare in haematological malignancy.
Pertinent to the molecular targeting of b-catenin to disrupt its pathological role in AML, is the prior characterisation of its interacting partners in leukaemia cells. My BSH early-stage research start up grant has allowed me to assess the feasibility of performing b-catenin interactome studies in leukaemia cells for the first time. Specifically, we have trialled the process of co-immunoprecipitating (co-IP) b-catenin protein from both leukaemia cell lines and primary AML patient blast samples, followed by mass spectrometry analysis.
Obtaining research funds from major grant funding bodies would have been a considerable challenge given the perceived level of risk associated with our experimental approach. As a junior research scientist, I would have also struggled in more competitive funding schemes given my relative inexperience compared with more senior co-applicants in the field.
However, our now optimised experimental strategy has proved successful and the BSH grant has provided me with the novel and interesting data I require to build a more substantial and long-term research bid.
For further information, please see Dr Morgan's full grant report.
This BSH award contributed to the successful application for a CRUK Small Molecule Drug Discovery Award that will be activated in 2019 and will focus on validating a potential new therapeutic target to overcome proteasome inhibitor resistance.
"The grant also enabled us to conduct a set of preliminary experiments that supported a successful grant application with an industry partner and another grant application that has been submitted to a UK organisation."
My research group works on aspects of intracellular protein homeostasis (proteostasis) in cancer cells and non-transformed cells, with a particular interest in multiple myeloma. The ultimate goal of our work is to find ways to disrupt proteostasis in malignant cells while largely sparing non-cancerous cells. This aim builds on the proposition that cancer cells, and in particular myeloma cells, are highly dependent on the mechanisms that co-ordinate protein degradation and synthesis. This notion is supported by the clinical success of inhibitors of the proteasome, the main effector of intracellular protein degradation.
The BSH grant allowed us to complete a set of experiments that formed a key part of a project that has now been completed, with a manuscript under review (May 2018). The grant also enabled us to conduct a set of preliminary experiments that supported a successful grant application with an industry partner and another grant application that has been submitted to a UK organisation. While the experiments that were funded by the BSH grant formed part of a larger work programme, the results of these experiments became important components of both the submitted manuscript and the grant applications, providing critical support for our conclusions and hypotheses.
For further information, please see Dr Auner's full grant report.
Deadline for general travel scholarships: 31 January and 31 July
ASH and EHA Travel Scholarship deadlines vary by year. See more information and apply for a travel scholarship.
"I had the opportunity to discuss and receive valuable feedback on my work from many different perspectives, which would otherwise have been impossible".
I was grateful to receive the BSH Travel Grant to be able to travel to the Gordon Research Conference on Megakaryocytes and Platelets, in Galveston, Texas, USA. I am an MB/PhD student currently studying for a PhD in the lab of Dr Cedric Ghevaert at the Department of Haematology, University of Cambridge, and the lab works on generating platelets in vitro for transfusions without the need for blood donors. My project in particular focuses on developing engineered platelets as a targeted drug delivery system, by loading the granules of platelets with drugs, so that they can activate and secrete these drugs where they need to go, without systemic side-effects, and thanks to the help of the BSH I was able to present my work at this international meeting, where I was able to meet the authors of all the big papers in the field of platelets biology! I had the opportunity to discuss and receive valuable feedback on my work from many different perspectives, which would otherwise have been impossible. I also had the chance to see my research in context of the other fascinating advances in the field taking place.
The conference was very well organised, with several sessions each with a different theme. Each session started with short introductory slides presented by session chairs, followed by several presentations. I was also able to talk to my contemporaries working around the world on the similar issues we face, as well as the big names of the field and felt I was able to learn from both and made lots of new friends along the way!
One of the reasons for attending the conference was to find out more about the tools that other labs use to ask similar kinds of questions that we are. One of the most fascinating talks was about some of these tools from the Hahn lab at UNC Chapel Hill. They had developed biosensors to detect signalling GTPases spatiotemporally and study how the dynamics of signalling take place in much more depth than can be shown by any western blot, developed computational techniques to analyse these videos and even engineered optogenetically activatable GTPases, using this to demonstrate how they were able to activate Rac61 precisely and reversibly using blue lasers. Rac61 is thought to control cell motility, and they were able to show how localised Rac activity was enough to mobilise cells to follow around the laser pointer, much like a cat. 1 From this I learnt a lot about the frontiers of what was possible with protein engineering as well as about new techniques for studying these signalling cascades in a way I had not considered before and certainly plan to make use of going forward.
Overall, I would like to thank the BSH for this opportunity to be able to travel, present my work, discover more about the work of others and the challenges we are facing together, and foster potential collaborations in the future that will hopefully benefit us all.
- Wu, Y. I. et al. A genetically encoded photoactivatable Rac controls the motility of living cells. Nature 461, 104 (2009).
Twitter - @souramoo
"This was a tremendously valuable educational experience that I would highly recommend to anyone wishing to develop an interest in lymphoma"
I am very grateful to the British Society of Haematology for supporting me with a Travel Fellowship to attend the Fondazione Italiana Linfomi (Italian Lymphoma Foundation) Cantera in Lecce, Italy.
Cantera, literally meaning ‘quarry’ in Spanish, is a term used to refer to Spanish sporting academies. Taking its inspiration from this training model, the FIL Cantera is an annual three-day course which aims to bring together a small number of trainees from across Europe and beyond, to receive instruction from a leading expert in the field of lymphoma. The brainchild of Prof Massimo Federico of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Modena, Italy, the course has been co-sponsored by the European Haematology Association Lymphoma Group from 2018.
In previous years, course experts have included Bruce Cheson (2013), Richard Fisher (2014), Randy Gascoyne (2015), Andrew Zelenetz (2016), Steven Rosen & John Chan (2017) and Stephen Ansell (2018). This year, the course was led by Prof Anas Younes of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York. A highly respected international expert, Prof Younes works in the development of novel targeted therapies and the identification of biomarkers for lymphoma. He has been the principal investigator in numerous clinical trials, including some of the pivotal studies of Nivolumab and Brentuximab vedotin in Hodgkin Lymphoma.
Designed with an emphasis on interactivity, each session involved a presentation by Prof Younes, with generous amounts of time allocated to discussion, giving ample opportunity to ask questions as well as share and reflect on each other's experiences and opinions. With this year's theme being 'Precision Medicine in Lymphoma', sessions were delivered on the current standards of care in lymphoma, drug development, clinical trial design, circulating tumour DNA, immune therapy, combination strategies, and trial endpoints and target populations.
On the final day, the trainees pitched a clinical trial proposal that they had developed in groups to a panel of experts comprising Profs Younes and Federico, joined by Profs Antonino Carbone and Martin Dreyling. The most popular proposals received promises of support from the panel to help develop them in future.
The venue of the course was Lecce, a beautiful town in Salento, Italy. With evenings spent dining together in some very nice restaurants, the course was also a great opportunity to network with like-minded individuals and to lay the foundations for future collaborative relationships.
In summary, this was a tremendously valuable educational experience that I would highly recommend to anyone wishing to develop an interest in lymphoma.
"These 3 reasons have not only given me motivation in my career as a haematologist to further expand my knowledge and to deliver the best care to my patients, but also have contributed to my development as a well-rounded haematologist."
I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience attending the 60th annual American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting & Exposition in San Diego for numerous reasons. I greatly benefited from the extensive and well planned programme and was struck by how much effort in placed into educational sessions that are geared towards haematology trainees. I have definitely improved and updated my knowledge of the pathophysiology, diagnostic and management process of various haematological diseases. One session that I found particularly interesting was titled “Low Iron Promotes Megakaryocytic Commitment of Megakaryocytic-Erythroid Progenitors in Human and Mice1“ which showed the pathophysiological process behind why iron deficiency anaemia is often accompanied by thrombocytosis. A question many times asked during my medical student teaching sessions that I am unable to answer.
Secondly, I also had the opportunity to present a poster titled “Long-Term Safety and Efficacy of Autologous or Allogeneic Donor Stem Cell Transplantation in Patients with Behçet’s Syndrome” and had another abstract that I co-authored titled “Randomized Trials of Autologous Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation for Diffuse Cutaneous Systemic Sclerosis: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis with Trial Sequential Analysis of Overall Mortality” being presented as an oral poster. Being given this opportunity has definitely further developed my interest in research and have motivated me to continue to be involved in research in a local and national level whenever the opportunity arises.
Thirdly, this annual meeting has given me the opportunity to interact with haematologists from all around the globe. We were able to exchange experiences and I was able to see how haematological conditions are being managed differently in other developed or developing countries which has opened my eyes and given me a broader perspective of the overall issues surrounding haematology.
In conclusion, these 3 reasons have not only given me motivation in my career as a haematologist to further expand my knowledge and to deliver the best care to my patients, but also have contributed to my development as a well-rounded haematologist.
- Low Iron Promotes Megakaryocytic Commitment of Megakaryocytic-Erythroid Progenitors in Human and Mice. Juliana Xavier-Ferrucio, Xiuqi Li, Vanessa Scanlon, Ping-Xia Zhang, Nadia Ayala-Lopez, Toma Tebaldi, Stephanie Halene, Karin E. Finberg and Diane S. Krause. Blood 2018 132:2; doi: https://doi.org/10.1182/blood-2018-99-115214
"It has been a wonderful experience and a great opportunity for me especially at this early stage in my scientific training."
The American Society of Haematology (ASH) conference this year was held in sunny San Diego, California. The conference was celebrating its 60th anniversary and it lived up to my expectations. As a clinician, albeit one who has recently started a PhD in megakaryocyte biology, the conference provided an opportunity to get updates about the latest trials and evidence. One of the big talking points of the conference was the presentation of data from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) on the heritability of de novo AML which indicated that up to 20% of patients might have an inherited genetic disposition to developing the condition. Other notable highlights were the results from trials looking at the utility of direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) in malignancy-related VTE. Sickle cell disease also featured highly with a number of fascinating educational sessions reporting on the progress in gene-editing of the beta haemoglobin gene, which may present a potential ’cure’ for the condition without the need for a bone marrow transplant. This year’s conference had a number of superb educational scientific talks within the area of haematopoiesis (the focus of my PhD), such as "stress and haematopoiesis", "thrombopoeisis and the lung" and "how to make a red cell". These talks summarised both the key discoveries in the field and also gave some insights into where the field seems to be going in the future.
The conference was also an opportunity for me to present my own work and to discuss my findings and approaches with other scientists and clinicians. My poster, titled "Bayesian analysis of TPO in immune thrombocytopenia", is part of the larger body of work which aims to understand how the immune system affects the normal functioning and regulation of megakaryocytes in both autoimmunity and inflammation more generally. Using novel mathematical approaches and computer simulations I generated a model of TPO production in immune thrombocytopenia. The work attracted a great deal of interest and inspired lively discussion both about the research itself and about possible future directions the work could take.
I am very grateful to the BSH for sponsoring my attendance to the conference. It has been a wonderful experience and a great opportunity for me especially at this early stage in my scientific training.
"Without the support of the BSH and their travel scholarship, I would not have been able to attend this exciting event and present our group’s research"
10th International Workshop on Waldenström’s Macroglobulinemia
New York Marriott Downtown, New York, NY
October 11-13, 2018
The 10th IWWM conference was held in New York City, USA this year, in a historic area near to Wall Street and the 9/11 Memorial Museum. The conference was an extremely well organised 3 day event with presentations covering a range of topics relating to WM. There were sessions on the genomic landscape of WM, diagnosis and management of the disease, clinical trial updates and resistance mechanisms.
Without the support of the British Society for Haematology and their travel scholarship, I would not have been able to attend this exciting event and present our group’s research. Our abstract entitled “Sequential analysis of TP53 variation using targeted Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) in patients with Waldenström Macroglobulinaemia” was selected as a poster presentation and this was shown at the poster viewing reception on Friday 12th October. Our research showed that TP53 variation can develop over the course of the disease in WM patients. This implies that TP53 testing should be performed both at presentation and prior to any therapy initiation during the time course of the disease in order to accurately appraise therapy choices.
One of the most interesting topics for me was a talk by Irene Ghobrial from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute on whether cell free DNA (cfDNA) can be used to assess mutation status in WM. Her group found almost 99% concordance between somatic mutations found in liquid and tumour biopsies. The application of this technique is extremely sensitive with batch sampling proving cost effective. The idea was most appealing to me for use in sequential sampling of the patient over time, enabling minimally invasive procedures and avoiding the use of repeat bone marrow aspiration. Despite the bulk of disease occurring in the bone marrow, this group have shown that cfDNA from peripheral blood can better reflect the tumour heterogeneity. One of the keynote speakers, Dan Landau, also discussed this method of testing as a useful way to study the evolutional landscape of Ibrutinib resistance, with his expertise based on studies in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (Landau, et al 2017). This was another key theme of the conference with Ibrutinib resistance becoming more common with increased use of BTK inhibition in this patient cohort. The outcome of these discussions led to the opinion that combination therapy rather than single agent therapy is the key to overcoming clonal evolution of resistant clones.
I would like to thank the BSH committee for their generous Travel Scholarship award of £1000 which enabled me to travel to New York, USA for this conference. The experience has been invaluable and I hope will impact my research work both now and in the future.
Landau, D.A., Sun, C., Rosebrock, D., Herman, S.E.M., Fein, J., Sivina, M., Underbayev, C., Liu, D., Hoellenriegel, J., Ravichandran, S., Farooqui, M.Z.H., Zhang, W., Cibulskis, C., Zviran, A., Neuberg, D.S., Livitz, D., Bozic, I., Leshchiner, I., Getz, G., Burger, J.A., Wiestner, A. & Wu, C.J. (2017) The evolutionary landscape of chronic lymphocytic leukemia treated with ibrutinib targeted therapy. Nat Commun, 8, 2185.
"Without this I would have not had the chance to present my data to experts in NHL or get valuable feedback from them."
I would like to take this opportunity to thank BSH for supporting me attending the Sixth International Symposium on Childhood, Adolescent and Young Adult Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. This 4-day symposium focused on translational research and clinical trials in paediatric and young adult NHL.
During the symposium, I had the opportunity to present our work entitled “investigation of FOXO1 mutations in paediatric endemic and sporadic Burkitt lymphoma”, which was selected as an oral presentation in the poster discussion session. This study described high frequency of FOXO1 mutations in Burkitt lymphoma (BL), as well as an oncogenic role of FOXO1 in BL making it a potential therapeutic target. I also had the chance to engage with senior researchers from around the world who gave suggestions and criticism which helped us putting together this work into a manuscript after the symposium and submitted for publication.
This conference broadened my knowledge on recent progress in paediatric and young adult NHL, such as current molecular and bioinformatics research, ongoing clinical trials, global clinical experience (especially developing countries), stem cell transplantation, patient stratification and recent improvement in treatments. One particularly interesting research field was chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells. Gardner et al demonstrated efficacy of anti-CD19+ CAR T-cells in paediatric relapsed or refractory NHL with well-tolerated toxicities in a phase II trial. Ryotaro Nakamura improved in-vivo expansion of CAR T-cells by developing CMV-CD19 bi-specific T-cells with CMV vaccine stimulation, which has progressed to phase II clinical trial (British Journal of Haematology, 182, (Suppl. 1), 5–109). These studies offered hope to paediatric NHL patients who failed front-line therapies and stem cell transplantation.
Overall, this was a focused and informative conference, which kept me updated in recent NHL research and clinical trials, also provided the opportunity to network with researchers from other countries and establishment of potential collaborations. Once again, I am very grateful to BSH for granting me funding to attend this symposium. Without this I would have not had the chance to present my data to experts in NHL or get valuable feedback from them.
"Critically, I initiated 2 collaborations only possible due to my attendance of the meeting."
Thanks to the generous support of BSH, I was able to travel to Atlanta to attend the 59th Annual Meeting and Exhibition of the American Society of Haematology. I presented my group’s work, entitled Histone Acetyl-Transferase Kat2a Regulates Transcriptional Heterogeneity and Impacts Self- Renewal of Acute Myeloid Leukemia Cells in a Disease-Specific Manner, at the conference and enjoyed multiple opportunities for discussion. Critically, I initiated 2 collaborations only possible due to my attendance of the meeting.
The ASH meeting is an intense yet highly rewarding experience that articulates clinical with basic science perspectives and audiences. The unpublished or recently-published nature of the work presented provides investigators with very clear and live notions of the directions the field is taking. This assists young Principal Investigators such as myself in making strategic decisions at project bifurcations. Moreover, the quantity and diversity of sessions on display inevitably sheds new light on the interpretation of one’s own data.
This year, from a basic research perspective into myeloid malignancies, there were very clear focuses on the role of metabolism, particularly mitochondrial metabolism, in influencing leukaemia progression. A more recent, but equally timely area of research, was the articulation between epigenetic regulation and alternative splicing, a novel theme for which there is a strong body of emergent evidence, whilst precise mechanistic connections are still being defined. The idea that epigenetic dysregulation inherent to myeloid malignancies may perturb not only the quantity, but also the quality, of gene expression, is remarkably interesting to me.
I focus my research on the contribution of transcriptional heterogeneity to fate transitions in Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML), and employ manipulation of individual epigenetic regulators to promote differentiation or death of AML cells with therapeutic intent. I had previously viewed epigenetic regulators as sensors and translators of metabolic cell status into initiation, processivity, and/or suppression of gene expression.
The association with alternative splicing, suggests that metabolic status and availability of intermediate metabolites, can additionally modify the protein diversity of the cell, with generation of variability in, and complex re-wiring of regulatory networks. I had encountered tentative associations between metabolic status, splicing and protein synthesis in my own data, which now take shape in light of substantive unpublished data presented at the conference.
My travel to ASH, much as everybody else’s, was complicated by the extreme cold weather conditions in Southern States, and I eventually arrived in Atlanta a day later than expected, and by taxi rather than plane. Despite the bumpy start, ASH proved to be the enriching experience I had anticipated. It generated numerous ideas that already bear fruit in my group’s research, and I thank the British Society of Haematology, as well as my own Fellowship funding body, the Kay Kendall Leukaemia Fund, for having made this trip possible.
"Since my talk I have been approached by clinicians from around the world with interest in our study and have been able to bring haematologists and scientists working on specific diseases together"
The BSH travel scholarship enabled me to travel to ASH in Atlanta this year. My abstract entitled ‘High-throughput Sequencing in patients with inherited bleeding and platelet disorders: novel gene discovery and robust diagnosis’ was selected as one of the top 6 abstracts (out of more than 6000) for presentation in the ASH plenary scientific session. This was a wonderful opportunity for me personally and professionally. The work I presented is the culmination of several years of collaborative work from an international team of clinicians, geneticists and laboratory and computational scientists and has been the focus of my PhD research. Showcasing my work on this platform at ASH enabled me to bring our research to a wider audience and show how high-throughput sequencing using whole genome sequencing and a targeted gene panel is transforming diagnosis for patients with rare coagulation, thrombotic and platelet disorders.
Since my talk I have been approached by clinicians from around the world with interest in our study and have been able to bring haematologists and scientists working on specific diseases together. I have also had interest in sequencing more patients on our gene panel and it is great to have been able to spread the word and get more people using this resource.
Giving a presentation like this was a great privilege and I learnt a lot about how to prepare for and talk to a large, diverse audience.
This was my first trip to ASH and I also appreciated the diverse quality of presentations across the field of haematology. Having spent the last few years doing a PhD in rare bleeding and platelet disorders, it was refreshing to be reminded of the many advances in other areas of haematology and how interesting it is being a haematologist! I also attended some of the education sessions which were really useful for my clinical practice.
Finally, giving a presentation at ASH was an ideal way to meet haematologists and scientists with an interest in my area of research from across the world, and also to meet up and maintain links with colleagues across haematology. I am enthused to carry on and make the most of this opportunity. It was an invaluable experience and many thanks to the BSH for their support in making it possible.
BSH Travel Scholarship supported Dr Willmore to attend International Workshop in New York
I’m very grateful to BSH for the travel grant to support my attendance at the international workshop on Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL) in May, 2017. The workshop is a 4 day meeting with a blend of clinical/translation studies and basic biology, with the aim of advancing the understanding and treatment of CLL (and associated malignancies).
The workshop opened with sessions focused on the factors leading to the development of CLL, including a description of familial CLL (Tait Shanafelt) describing how 10% of patients have first degree relatives with CLL. Monoclonal B-cell lymphocytosis (MBL) may also contribute to the development of CLL and genome-wide studies have identified 9 loci that are associated with an increased risk for CLL. Richard Houlston explained how SNPs conferring risk for CLL map to areas of open chromatin where they may be involved in regulation of gene expression.
At the meeting, I also had the opportunity to present a poster entitled “Activation of p53 by the MDM2 antagonist RG7388 in CLL cells ex vivo triggers cell death via a pro-apoptotic gene signature”. The poster describes part of our recent work from the Cancer Research UK Drug Discovery Newcastle team, who are working in alliance with Astex Pharmaceuticals. We are investigating how MDM2 antagonists may be used in CLL, particularly as this represents a non-genotoxic therapy with minimal effect on normal cells. The poster was well received and gave me the opportunity to engage with others in the field and consider possible combination therapies using MDM2 antagonists.
Finally, these relatively small workshops facilitate interaction, and I was able to meet with two collaborators to discuss recent data and progress future directions with novel small molecule inhibitors that are of mutual interest. Many thanks to BSH for this award, which was much appreciated.
Student Elective Scholarships
I used the BSH grant to fund my elective and I went on elective in India. I went to part of India called Kerala which is where my parents are from. I've been to Kerala a few times but never experienced the healthcare system, and I was particularly interested in how cancers were treated, in particular blood cancers, in that part of the world. I was looking for funding for my elective and I happened to do an internet search for funding and I found it on...I think it was a website called money for medical students, and I found BSH and the requirements were very very few. So I just applied for it and they wanted a report or some evidence of academic standing and what extra-curricula activities I participate in. And they accepted my request.
The BSH grant has opened a lot of doors for me. It has allowed me to and see things in my chosen country that I probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to see, such as lab experience. I am able to pay more money into seeing things such as FISH and SCI procedures are done in the laboratories, which is probably not accessible to see in the UK unless you get special permission. So that's that's really helped me a lot. The highlight of my elective was going to an outpatient clinic on my first day and being given a stack of notes and being asked to clock in patients in a totally different language. That was a great experience. The BSH grant has changed my experience of haematology, being able to see various presentations of haematology, things I had never seen in the UK, and it allowed me to see things that I'll probably never see again in my lifetime and I'm very grateful to the British Society of Haematology for that.
"This was an informative and rewarding elective which allowed me to explore a beautiful country, learn about the political situation and explore many aspects of medicine"
Due to the generous contribution of the British Society of Haematologists I was able to compare the work of Haematologists in the highly specialised department of Oxford healthcare trust with the relatively resource poor and politically complicated setting of the Augusta Victoria and Makassed hospitals, Jerusalem. Two hospitals serving the Palestinian community of the West Bank.
In Oxford I worked with Dr Ramasamy’s team on a project looking at bone health in Myeloma. This gave me insight into how the multidisciplinary team work together to produce research and inform evidence-based medicine. They spent time enabling me to understand the different processes involved in data collection, clinical practice and writing. I saw how haematology treatments are developing (particularly for Multiple Myeloma), so that disease is increasingly controlled and long term management of symptoms required.
The Augusta Victoria, I suspect, provided a truly unique experience as it is a specialist oncology and haematology centre serving a community fraught with political complications. Whilst it has many resources not available in truly developing countries, monetary restrictions limit the care available.
The patients travel from all over Palestine however movement is restricted by the borders and checkpoints separating their land from Israel. The week before I arrived no patients had been allowed to travel from Gaza due to the recent bombings. When they reached the hospital their situation had progressed and often the given diagnosis was incorrect. Patients requiring bone marrow transplants required transfer to the local Israeli hospital Hadasseh however this had also been barred by the government so that 2 patients who had been worked up and prepared for bone marrow transplant had to have their expectations managed and treatment altered to fit the limitations of the medications available in the Augusta Victoria. The doctors and nurses do an excellent job managing the situation presented to them daily, dealing with relative shortages in staffing, facilities and medication.
Further, what made it so unique was the excellent tuition of Doctor Morabito, an Italian haematologist who is heading the department for a year. He is helping to develop the haematology service and hopefully get a bone marrow transplant service in place by the end of 2019. He tutored me in diagnostic techniques, the interpretation of blood films, spectroscopy and much, much more! So whilst I learnt huge amounts about their life and medical practice from the friendly staff welcoming me wherever I went I also saw haematology in practice.
Makassed is a general medical hospital and more representative of the facilities available to the Palestinian population. Whereas the Augusta Victoria manages to provide a clean, quiet and generally effective hospital service, Makassed is busy, often dirty, frantic and the staff did not hold back in telling me about the problems they face. Again the staff were friendly and spending a day in endocrine, rheumatology and neurology clinics allowed me to see a massive range of disease presentations.
This was an informative and rewarding elective which allowed me to explore a beautiful country, learn about the political situation and explore many aspects of medicine. I feel committed to help medical services in Palestine in the future and have enrolled in Arabic lessons.
"With my project supervisor I was able to attend thalassaemia and genetics clinics, gaining an insight into conditions that are vanishingly rare in the UK."
I would like to thank the British Society of Haematology very much for this grant, which enabled this elective to take place, and for their support through some unexpected circumstances.
My elective consisted of a 5-week clinical placement in Haematology and Paediatrics at the Mater Dei Hospital, Malta, alongside which I undertook a project under the supervision of Professor Christian Scerri investigating the management of β‐thalassaemia and its complications in terms of transfusion-related endocrinopathy.
Clinically, I was able to integrate into the teams and explore both specialties from inpatient and outpatient perspectives, learning a vast amount in the 5 weeks. Malta has a similar healthcare system to the NHS, but important differences exist; late presentations are common and guidelines seem less ubiquitous, with clinical judgement often carrying greater influence (interestingly, often to patient benefit). The sociocultural context and the Catholicism of the country contributed too to significant differences in attitudes towards health for patients and doctors alike.
Malta is a small Mediterranean island, an important factor in its genetic disease profile. With my project supervisor I was able to attend thalassaemia and genetics clinics, gaining an insight into conditions that are vanishingly rare in the UK. The project was an opportunity to further explore β‐thalassaemia as one such condition, in particular the challenge of keeping these patients safe from the natural course of disease and from the complications of treatment.
Maltese β‐thalassaemia is considered thalassaemia intermedia, with four causative mutations characterised by Prof Scerri (1998). Thirty years ago it was recognised that these patients do better on a hypertransfusion regimen akin to that used in thalassaemia major, aiming Hb at 10 g/dL (+/- 0.5g/dl); thus they are managed now as cases of transfusion-dependent thalassaemia (TDT). This is consistent with the growing body of evidence that complications arise due to chronic anaemia in non-TDT (NTDT), and that quality of life may be more impaired in NTDT than TDT (Musallam et al, 2011).
Hypertransfusion however is associated with iron-related endocrinopathy. Globally, iron chelators are used to minimise this (oral desferasirox in Malta), aiming at serum ferritin <1000 g/L; nevertheless DeSanctis (2014) found an internationally high prevalence of such complications. The five major problems he identified (hypogonadism, short stature, glycaemic abnormalities, hypoparathyroidism and hypothyroidism) were taken as a basis by which to assess endocrinopathy in the Maltese population.
Here there are effectively two cohorts of ‘thalassaemia intermedia’; the older cohort (A), regularly transfused only later in life (n=14), and another group (B) regularly transfused from early childhood (n=15). Further subgroupings might show other differences; this is a preliminary analysis of the data.
The average number of transfusions received per year life was 0.94 for the older cohort, A versus 7 for the younger cohort B. Cohort B had a statistically significantly higher mean ferritin over time (1752g/L vs. 1113g/L; p < 0.0376) and there was a higher incidence of endocrinopathy: mean BMI over time was significantly lower (mean BMI 18.4 vs. 23.4; p < 0.0012) and 4/11 patients (36%) were considered to have hypogonadism from biochemical results relative to 0/9 patients (0%) transfused from later life (cohort A). Diabetes mellitus (glycaemic abnormalities) was more common in the later-transfused cohort A (3/14 vs. 0/14) but there was no control population for comparison nor control for factors such as the background incidence of diabetes and patient age (mean 50.8 in cohort A vs. 26.3 years in cohort B). Thyroid and parathyroid function was within normal range for all patients.
Fig. 1: Table summarising endocrinopathy per cohort (* Statistically significant difference between the two cohorts on unpaired t-test).
Mean number transfusions per year
Growth (BMI < 18.5)*
BMI used as standardised measure for growth due to variable ages and parental height unavailability
No general population control group; difficult to account for age
It was a pleasure and a privilege to work with Professor Scerri and his team, and to contribute to the care of these patients. I would like to express my sincere gratitude for their welcome and continued support. I would also like to thank the Royal Society of Medicine, the University of Cambridge Clinical School, Gonville and Caius College Cambridge, and Christ’s College Cambridge who also supported this elective.
"This elective gave me the opportunity to spend time with both clinicians and scientists, allowing me to gain insight into the current challenges and questions asked in malignant haematology"
Firstly, I would like to thank the British Society of Haematology for generously funding my elective.
I spent my elective period at UCL Cancer Institute under the supervision of Dr Marc Mansour and Dr Simon Richardson. The Mansour laboratory has extensively studied mechanisms of leukaemogenesis and novel therapies in T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and acute myeloid leukaemia.
I was involved in a project investigating PRDM16 as a putative oncogenic driver of normal karyotype AML (NK-AML). Cytogenetic analyses are currently used to stratify AML patients to different prognostic groups; however, in 40-50% of AML cases, no chromosomal abnormality is visible by conventional karyotyping. Molecular analyses have recently identified several recurrent, distinct mutations in NK-AML patients. These include activating mutations such as internal tandem duplications of the receptor tyrosine kinase FLT3 gene (FLT3-ITD), point mutations of the RAS protooncogenes, mutations altering genes encoding transcription factors (AML1, CEBPA), and mutations interfering with tumour suppressor pathways such as NPM1. Identification of these mutations can provide insight into the mechanisms that promote and maintain NK-AML, and not only aid risk stratification in this cytogenetically heterogenous group, but also guide therapeutic decisions.
PRDM16 is a zinc finger transcription factor, and also encodes for histone methyltransferases that maintain heterochromatin integrity. It plays a critical role in the regulation of hematopoietic stem cells, and is therefore a prime candidate for leukaemogenesis. High PRDM16 expression is a significant predictive marker for poor prognosis in both paediatric and adult AML patients, and correlates with other known mutations in adult AML. Furthermore, it is preferentially over-expressed in NK-AML.
As part of the project, I completed an ongoing screening of NK-AML patient samples for PRDM16 expression. This involved preparing RNA from the biobank, making cDNA libraries, and performing quantitative PCRs, which allowed for identification of monoallelic cases as well as differentiation between short and long isoform expression. This work allowed us to investigate the correlation between PRDM16 expression and clinical outcomes, particularly disease relapse. In addition, to elucidate the mechanism of PRDM16, I helped to characterise 2 AML cell lines – 1 PRDM16+ NPM1 WT and 1 NPM1+ – by performing Western blot analysis for PRDM16 on nuclear, cytoplasmic, and whole cell extracts. I also performed shRNA knock-down experiments in both cell lines and assessed PRDM16 expression and cell viability. Finally, I was able to commence making a NPM1 knock-in cell line using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing techniques.
This elective gave me the opportunity to spend time with both clinicians and scientists, allowing me to gain insight into the current challenges and questions asked in malignant haematology, and the molecular biology strategies available to answer them. Furthermore, I was able to build on skills from my PhD in an entirely new field. Overall, my elective most certainly did meet and exceed expectations.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Dr Marc Mansour and Dr Simon Richardson for their supervision and support, and to the rest of the Mansour lab for allowing my elective period to be a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable one.
"This elective has truly changed my future in medicine."
Katie Parrott, University of Birmingham
Location of elective: Sri Lanka
Firstly, I would like to thank the British Society of Haematology for the grant they have awarded me. This allowed me to visit the country of Sri Lanka, meet patients suffering with serious diseases and their families. This experience will certainly change the way I practise medicine in the future. Had it not been for this bursary I would not have had the opportunity to study in Sri Lanka, and therefore I could not be more grateful. I studied in the southern state of Sri Lanka, in the city of Galle, splitting my time between Karapitiya teaching hospital and various community clinics and medical facilities, allowing me to fully experience a completely different healthcare system.
I chose to do this report on haematological malignancies in Sri Lanka as, after some initial research, I found that after accidental death, haematological malignancy is the second most common cause of death in the entire country, making it an important public health concern for Sri Lanka. Furthermore, although Sri Lanka has some public funding for healthcare, there are limited resources, which makes charity assistance a necessity; particularly with regards to patient support. However, in the southern province of the island, there is very little charity support for paediatric patients suffering from leukaemia. The northern province has its own charity, so I was intrigued to speak to patients and their families and find out their personal experiences.
I first spent 2 weeks with paediatric hospital inpatients, going on the oncological specialist ward rounds that visited the unit, and then speaking to the families of the patients on the ward. It struck me how much a role the child’s parents play on the wards here; it is essential for there to be a family member with every patient, and they are much more intricately involved in the patient care than we see in Great Britain. The parents would be with the child all day during their stay on the wards, making sure the child’s needs were met and acting as the responsible adult for each child. A lot of treatment for leukaemia is carried out as a hospital inpatient in Sri Lanka, therefore the child will spend a great deal of time in hospital. As mentioned, the parents are vital in the child’s care, and therefore it is a great difficulty for the whole family to be caring for the child whilst in hospital. I learnt that there is a large paediatric haematological malignancy unit in the countries capital, Colombo. This means that for the patients who live outside of one of the large cities, they may need to travel to one such a facility, and spend a long time there caring for the child, with relatively little charitable support compared with what we experience in Great Britain.
Furthermore, the time spent on the wards really helped develop my scientific understanding of haematological malignancies, and their chemotherapeutic treatments, in the paediatric population, which is something I have never had much experience with before. This was invaluable for my learning; I now understand what it is that these patients truly go through on a day to day basis, which is so important to see first hand to fully appreciate the immensity of it.
I spent the following two weeks on community medicine posts, which focused on serious paediatric conditions, prioritising haematological malignancies. Here, my focus was much more on the family experience of the disease and the treatment and care they received. The thing that struck me most about this period of study was the difficulty experienced by parents if they are worried that their child may be showing signs of illness. There are no publicly funded GPs, instead children receive basic health checks whilst at school. Doctors visit larger schools at grades 1, 4, 7 and 11, giving the children vaccinations and giving an overview health check. However, even in these situations, it would be difficult to pick up signs of a haematological malignancy, unless the child verbally discussed any complaints themselves. Other than the school checks, the only other ways a parent can get their child seen would be to pay for a private general practitioner; which many patients do not have access to; or to queue up at the hospital, from the early hours of the morning and hope to see a general paediatrician who can examine the child thoroughly. However, it can take hours to be seen by a doctor in this way; arriving at the hospital at 9am, the corridors would already be filled with patients and families hoping to be seen by a doctor. Other than the access to care, most families reported feeling incredibly lucky to be treated at such an amazing facility, and had nothing but praise for the care they had received.
This elective has truly changed my future in medicine. It has taught me not only a great deal about the scientific and medical intricacies of treating haematological malignancies in paediatrics, but also it has truly opened my eyes to a healthcare system that has such a core role for the patient’s family, and I feel very lucky to have witnessed this first hand. Thank you to BSH for giving me this opportunity and helping to shape my future career.
"I experienced challenging and educational medicine whilst learning how to holistically manage complex and very unwell paediatric patients"
Mina Ibrahimi, medical student, University of Cambridge
Location of elective: Seoul National University Hospital, South Korea
Firstly, I would like to say a tremendous thank you to the British Society for Haematology for awarding me a Student Elective Scholarship, without which my elective would not have been possible. For my elective, I travelled to Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH) in South Korea to undertake a placement in paediatric haematology, a speciality in which I have been interested throughout my time at medical school. As one of South Korea’s leading tertiary hospitals with a 300-bed children’s hospital, SNUH was an attractive location for me to gain a breadth of experience in both specialist and core haematology.
During my placement, I was supervised by Professor Kang Hyoung Jin, who has a specialist interest in the development of novel treatments for refractory leukaemia. I integrated into his team and spent time attending handover, ward rounds and clinics; as well as weekly radiology meetings, pathology meetings and journal clubs. I was also given the opportunity to attend clinics for benign haematology. I was able to learn about the clinical trials they were undertaking and the process that this entails, both administratively and clinically.
During my elective, I completed two literature review projects that I presented at departmental meetings. The first review was centred on the key genetic mutations in acute myeloid leukaemia, their effect on prognosis and potential for targeted therapies, and the second review concentrated on key haematological tumour antigens and related immunotherapies. This was a very useful opportunity for me to read about certain areas of malignant haematology in depth, allowing me to gain a good overview of promising future directions in these fields.
With South Korea being so culturally and socially different from the UK, I had to adapt to difficult communication and differing patient expectations. The approach to offering investigations and discussing disease with patients was also very different from my previous experiences, with a focus on explaining pathology in detail, and it was interesting to see how this changed patient experience of healthcare. I was able to appreciate the remarkable work ethic and time management skills of the clinical team, from attending to over fifty patients in a single ward round to seeing patients in clinic with a turnover of five minutes.
"I feel the most enjoyable aspect about an elective is the freedom to explore the areas you are passionate about without the restrictions placed on you to complete cases and course work."
Rory Graham, 5th year medical student at Glasgow University
Location of elective: Schiehallion Ward, Royal Children's Hospital Glasgow
'Paediatric oncology with interest in haematology' at the Royal Children's Hospital Glasgow was a four week venture into the Schiehallion ward. Under the supervision of Dr Ronghe I was able to diversify my learning between the three specialties that share the ward; oncology, haematology and transplant medicine. Partaking in ward rounds and clinics of these three specialities as well as visits to the lab and apheresis unit at Gartnaval Hospital I was able to see a vast amount in four weeks.
In addition, I completed two projects; an audit in paediatric neuroblastoma patients and to complement this I completed a spreadsheet program to provide dates for a treatment plan for paediatric patients with neuroblastoma.
The core outcomes from my elective were to learn how paediatric medicine differs from adult, and to contribute to the field by completing an audit. During the completion of these educational outcomes I would learn through exposure to different scenarios how a paediatric doctor fulfils his duty of care to his patients. Observing the interplay of different health professionals would in turn add to my growing understanding of what it means to be a health professional.
My supervisor, paediatric consultant Dr Ronghe, listened to my goals and ensured I could access to the right people and facilities to achieve them. This introduced me to Dr Kenneth Douglas, consultant haematologist, who explained to me the challenges of treating paediatric neuroblastoma. This became my audit subject.
Treatment is guided by the SIOPEN trial, which dictates whether the patient receives the N7 or COJEC chemotherapy. Peripheral blood stem cell transplant is a critical component in the treatment of neuroblastoma patients as this ensures adequate populations of progenitor blood stem cells remain in the bone marrow of the patient. These cells are collected after chemotherapy once the bone marrow has had a chance to recover. However, the limited success of PBSC collections is thought to be contributed to by the design of the trial. My audit therefore centred on gathering data of which mobilising chemotherapy achieved the most successful PBSC collections.
In addition to my audit project another doctor provided me with a brief on a second project. He stated there was a need for a program that effectively planned each stage of the treatment protocol for the SIOPEN trail. What resulted was a program that required one date for starting chemotherapy. The code was such that an alteration in any of the dates, for example a delayed chemotherapy treatment due to line sepsis, would result in a rescheduling of all other dates to the new timetable. In this way a plan was available to both the healthcare team and the parents of the patient.
I was proud of the final product as when I took on the project I was not confident using excel to this end. I used my initiative and at the same time gained an understanding about trial design that will benefit me in interpreting the complex details of some trials.
Delving into this audit I developed my understanding of a new area of oncology. Neuroblastoma is an example of malignancy of embryonic stem cells. I understand now why blastoma type cancers are prevalent in children and how they are treated differently. This linked to the necessity of PBSC transplants in the treatment protocol.
Learning about PBSC transplants provided a link between oncology and haematology, my special interest. Autologous transplants are different to allogenic transplants as the aim is to encourage regrowth of the patient’s native immune cells, in contrast to using the graft vs host effect to attack cancer cells.
Transplant and oncology specialities work together efficiently and communication is aided by sharing the same ward. MDTs are held daily and care is highly co-ordinated. I noted in particular how tightly care was co-ordinated and how this translated into benefit for the patient and their family. Parents were kept so well informed; in essence the doctor-parent relationship was the basis for a greater trust placed on the doctor than I had seen before.
The weight of responsibility on the doctors was intense. Occasionally the doctors’ room was a place for consolation following conversations on dolorous topics with parents. The doctor must inform the patients carers in such a way to allow them to make decisions that may result in the death of their own child. The parent places trust in the doctor’s knowledge, their opinion, and in the specialty as a whole. It was humbling to have had even a small role in the care of any patient. The privilege of treating any sick patient is something I never want to lose hold of in my career. Taking responsibility over the care of a human in the most vulnerable period of their life is a humbling experience.
The weight of the responsibility can be shared among the members of the team. Everyone in a team has a different background and views, but in Schiehallion I saw them brought together by their duty of care for their patients. The strength of a team comes from the safety they feel in their job. The confidence to make decisions does not come entirely from knowledge and experience, but also from the assurance received from being part of a dependable and cohesive team.
Ideally I would have liked to have completed my paediatric block prior to my elective as this would have given me a greater appreciation to just how different a paediatric speciality is compared to adult medicine.
I feel the most enjoyable aspect about an elective is the freedom to explore the areas you are passionate about without the restrictions placed on you to complete cases and course work. I am a student who works best with minimal guidance and the audit work and excel program I designed ware examples of my best work. I had a task and a deadline, I planned as best as I could and got the job done. The confidence that I have gained from looking back at my work and seeing that I have made a difference, seeing what I can do when I grasp opportunities, will be something I wholeheartedly take forward in my quick approaching professional life.
"This elective gave me a fantastic opportunity to develop my PhD skills and knowledge into a new area"
Dr Charles Bell, Bye Fellow (Medical Sciences), Murray Edwards College, Cambridge. College Teaching Associate, Queens' College, Cambridge. Foundation Doctor, University College London Hospital, London. Personal and CoTM Tutor, UCL Medical School, London.
Location of elective: Bhardwaj Research Laboratory, Icahn School of Medicine, Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City.
As part of my PhD, I focused on the role of a subset of natural killer (NK) cells, CD56bright NK cells, following IL-2 therapy - the elective period was spent principally learning new techniques and applying them in the context of a new scientific area of interest, the role of NK cell exhaustion in melanoma, in a collaborative laboratory environment.
This has enabled me to explore further a field of interest (cancer immunotherapy) whilst also giving me more laboratory experience in a different system, and a greater understanding of the translation of therapies from bench to bedside.
The Bhardwaj laboratory has extensively studied the tumour microenvironment in melanoma, to understand whether the cellular dysfunction seen in T cells is also present for natural killer (NK) cells.
In particular, these studies have focused on the immunoregulatory protein T-cell immunoglobulin and mucin domain containing molecule 3 (Tim3), a mediator of exhaustion in T cells, understanding its role in NK cells and whether exhaustion of this cell subset contributes to disease progression.
These cells reduce their cytokine secretion in the context of melanoma, and this project was to further investigate the profile of such putatively exhausted cells.
I also had the opportunity to spend time with clinicians and others in the translational pathway to more fully understand how these treatments were moving from bench to bedside, and to observe their effects on patients.
The sheer speed of development of new therapeutics and the very impressive remission rates using such drugs is remarkable, and the effects on patients are extremely dramatic, both in terms of life lengthening but also in terms of quality of life.
In addition, I was able to spend time becoming familiar with new forms of personalised medicine, for example the use of tissue biopsy and humanised mouse models of tumour growth to characterise the genetics and test therapies or particular drugs in the context of their specific disease.
At present the model is not fast enough to impact directly upon the individual patient’s care, but in the future the use of such techniques may revolutionise cancer care.
This elective gave me a fantastic opportunity to develop my PhD skills and knowledge into a new area – already having some skills developed in those years helped enormously, as I was able to immediately perform a number of experiments and pick up other techniques quickly. Working in a different environment from my PhD was also helpful, to really understand how different laboratories engage with the science, and the different research regulatory and academic environment was interesting to experience.
Overall, my elective most certainly did meet and exceed expectations. I am delighted to have gained a poster from the research period, I was made extremely welcome in the laboratory, and overall it must be said that New York City is a great place for both academic and social collaboration.
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the British Society for Haematology, the University of Cambridge Clinical School (Hawkins Award), Queens’ College, Cambridge, the Royal College of Physicians, the British Medical and Dental Students’ Trust and the Gilchrist Trust for funding this amazing opportunity, and to Elena Gonzalez-Gugel and Nina Bhardwaj for their supervision, support and for making this possible.
BSH Student Elective Grant supported Sunay Gangadharan to travel to Kerala, India
"I was exposed to a wide variety of clinical presentations and I was able to gain a lot of valuable hands-on experience."
Firstly, I would like to thank the British Society for Haematology for sponsoring this period of elective study.
I carried out my elective in the state of Kerala, tucked away in the southwestern corner of India. I chose Kerala as my elective location as it is the place of my parents’ origin and from previous visits to the India, it is somewhere I can identify myself with culturally. I was intrigued by the ‘Kerala model’ of development which has seen the state achieve the best living conditions in all of India. With only 3% of India’s population, this diminutive state excels in indicators of social development such as low levels of infant mortality and population growth; the highest levels of literacy in the country, particularly among females; and higher life expectancy relative to the whole Indian population. These statistics are made even more impressive considering such indicators are comparable to many developed countries despite Kerala’s per capita income being much lower in
comparison. I wanted to explore the basis for the state’s impressive health standards and compare it to the National Health Service in the UK.
Unfortunately, Kerala is reported to have the highest number of cancer patients in the country. I wanted to study whether cancer care was proficient in Kerala so I decided to visit the Regional Cancer Centre (RCC), in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram. The RCC is an autonomous scientific institution sponsored jointly by the government of Kerala and the government of India, which prides itself on being an internationally recognised centre providing state-of-the-art care. I also had a specific interest in haematological malignancies and was allocated to observe in the Medical Oncology department. I was expected to attend the morning ward round where majority of patients were diagnosed with with either Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML), Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) or Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Just as in the UK, all three are present in the top
twenty types of cancer. The ward looked barren, the only cooling was from ceiling fans and there were no curtains between patients’ beds.
The ward round consisted of a senior resident and a nurse working in a pair, each reviewing the female and male bays, during which time each of the three consultants would pop in at various periods to check on their individual patients. The senior resident would check any outstanding blood results, palpate for any new lymphadenopathy, look inside the mouth for fungal infection and auscultate the chest for signs of respiratory disease. Once the rounds were completed, I was afforded the opportunity to observe patients receiving lumbar punctures and administration of intrathecal methotrexate as part of their chemotherapy regimen. The residents were amicable and keen to explain the intricacies of the various chemotherapy protocols.
I was briefed about routine investigations such as blood tests and what important parameters to look out for. I was able to observe how diagnostic methods were being employed in the laboratory. Bone marrow studies helped to identify possible chromosomal translocations and flow cytometry classified various cell populations that were used to identify types of leukaemia. Newer techniques such as fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and spectral karyotyping (SKY) required in the identification of the Philadelphia chromosome were also shown to me.
During the afternoons, I was expected to attend outpatient clinics and these were undoubtedly the highlight of my trip. The outpatients department consisted of two consulting rooms with a room dedicated to procedures adjacent to them. The rooms were swelteringly hot and there were no facilities for cooling. Each room was smaller than the size of standard NHS consulting room and personnel were split with consultants being in one room seeing follow-up patients and junior doctors in the other clerking in new patients. There would always be 3 doctors in each tiny room working simultaneously, and up to 10 patients in a room including patients, nurses and relatives. I was overwhelmed by the turnover of patients within the department; one could argue it is up to three times as efficient as an NHS outpatient clinic despite there being a complete disregard for patient confidentiality. On my first day, I was handed a pile of new patient notes and was asked to call in patients to be clerked while being supervised by one of the postgraduate doctors. I found it extremely challenging to clerk patients in my native language Malayalam – even though I was reasonably fluent conversing with the local population, explaining or asking complicated medical concepts was a struggle and fortunately my supervisors often came to my rescue.
There are vast differences in practice between the UK and India regarding communication from caregivers. I was present when bad news was broken to a patient about a cancer diagnosis in what seemed like an insensitive manner, without the classical ‘warning shot’ we are taught at medical school. The patient felt understandably devastated and being the breadwinner from a modest farming family, was fearful about the cost of treatment. Fortunately, at RCC cancer treatment is subsidised by the Indian government with more funding available for those on lower income.
There has been much discussion over the role of Ayurveda in cancer treatment. It is an ancient Indian system of medicine involving therapies based in complex herbal compounds, prayer, meditation and nutritional supplements as a means of healing from cancer. According to Cancer Research UK, there is no scientific evidence to prove Ayurveda can treat cancer. Experts at RCC I spoke to corroborated this conclusion and further went on to mention how some patients try
alternative treatments first due to their perception of the financial burden a cancer diagnosis may create, which then go on to fail, resulting in patients presenting late at a stage their disease cannot be cured.
Overall, I have enjoyed my trip to Kerala. The weather was fantastic, the people were a joy to work with and the food was both delicious and cheap! I was exposed to a wide variety of clinical presentations and I was able to gain a lot of valuable hands-on experience. Being thrown into the deep end by being asked to communicate in a different language, diagnose and work out appropriate treatment strategies proved to be an important character building experiences. I will definitely be carrying forward these positive experiences into my own clinical practice.