Summer Student 2019: Dylan McClurg

Summer Student 2019: Dylan McClurg

By 17/06/2019 No Comments

Summer Student 2019: Dylan McClurg

Supervised by Professor Valerie Speirs at the University of Aberdeen, Dylan will develop an animal-free model to investigate how breast cancer can spread throughout the body and help to replace experiments on mice.

Heartbreakingly for patients and their families, if cancer cells spread to bone, unfortunately the disease becomes incurable. Sadly, the spread of breast cancer to bone occurs in around 70% of patients with advanced breast cancer. Typically, this occurs years after a patient’s initial diagnosis, and can cause them pain, fractures, and decreased quality of life. It’s essential that researchers can determine which cancers are at greater risk of spreading to the bone so that doctors can monitor those patients at risk more closely.

Unfortunately, mice are frequently experimented on to study the spread of cancer. Cancer cells are directly injected into their hearts, forcing them to endure severe cardiac stress. The animals are then forced to suffer for around three months with cancer while it spreads to their bones. They are then killed so that the cancer cells can be removed from their damaged bones and injected into the hearts of other mice, repeating this distressing cycle. In addition to all of this unnecessary suffering, the results from attempting to cure cancer in mice are difficult to translate into effective treatments for patients because mice are not mini-humans.

In his summer research project, Dylan will develop a fully humanised, animal free model to study how breast cancer can spread to the bone. He will grow human breast cancer cells in a special type of 3D scaffold and then examine how these cells behave when exposed to various molecules known to be associated with the early stages of cancer spread.

Dylan’s human-relevant research has the potential to develop into a simple, cost effective way of determining which cancers are likely to spread at a very early stage – when the cancer is more likely to respond to treatment and before it becomes terminal. This could also help doctors determine which patients are at greater risk of cancer spread, allowing for closer monitoring and a more personalised approach to patient care.

From personal experience of the impact that cancer has on our lives, having the opportunity to have a potential role, even if small, in translating biomedical research into improved detection, outcome, and management of these patients is a significant opportunity.

As a future academic clinician who wants to ultimately benefit patient outcomes, this summer research project will help address the required need for human-relevant animal-free research methodologies. My summer student project will provide a solid foundation and a repertoire of skills that I could use for my future MPhil using animal-free cancer models.

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