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Summer Student 2021: Dania Alkhatib

Summer Student 2021: Dania Alkhatib

Validation of a cancer stem cell scoring method to predict the spread of head and neck tumours using artificial intelligence approaches.

Supervisor name and institution: Dr Gehad Youssef, Queen Mary Institute of London

Project summary:

Head and neck cancer affects more than 550,000 people globally and the incidence rates have increased by 22% over the past decade. It is one of the deadliest forms of tumours because even after the primary cancer has been removed, secondary cancers often reappear and spread to other sites of the body.

When a patient is diagnosed with head and neck cancer, a biopsy is taken for routine histological examination prior to the excision of the primary tumour and the initiation of radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments. Pathologists use this biopsy to try to understand the type of head and neck cancer the patient has and to determine how invasive the tumours are. However, one of the biggest problems that they face – and this is one of the greatest challenges in the management of cancers – is that there is no definitive way of knowing whether the tumour will return and aggressively spread to other parts of the body (known as metastasis).

The research group at the Animal Replacement Centre (ARC 1.0) has recently identified cancer stem cells in human tissue samples that are highly predictive of the spread of head and neck tumour using machine learning approaches.

The ARC has been collaborating with Dr Mohit Kumar Jolly, a mathematical modelling scientist at the Cancer System Biology Laboratory (IISc Bangalore, India). Dr Jolly’s team have developed scoring methods to predict how likely tumours will recur and spread to other parts of the body based on the groups of gene present in human tissue samples.

In her project, Dania will validate and refine the scores developed by Dr Jolly in 202 head and neck cancer samples using artificial intelligence (AI) approaches without the use of animals. This will allow her to address an important unmet clinical need: can we predict tumour recurrence and spread for head and neck cancer.

Animals project will replace: Mice, rats and pigs.

Watch Dania’s Summer School presentation…


Get to know Dania…

Why do you want to participate in animal replacement summer studentship?

In my MSc research project I had the chance to work on different cancer cell lines, learning more about them and molecular biology techniques. However, some of my cancer cell lines were derived from animals. When I presented my poster at the William Harvey Day – an annual student poster exhibition – I was approached by Dr Gehad Youssef who challenged me to consider that animal replacement methods could lead to human relevant advances and that was the ethically sound thing to do. He offered to supervise me on the Animal Free Research UK Summer Student Programme to focus my future research efforts using animal replacement methods.

What are your future plans and career aspirations?

I graduated from the faculty of dentistry at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem. Since early years of dental school, my personal interest has been concerned on how evidence-based interventions should be developed and evaluated to promote effective treatment. Despite the challenging environment, I have ambitions to lead a research group that uses advanced computer modelling and human clinical samples to make significant advances in oral pathology and more broadly to be a pioneer in Palestine for animal replacement techniques.


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Many human relevant approaches have been introduced into the scientific world, but unfortunately, the use of animals in medical research is entrenched and institutionalised, with many researchers still viewing animal experiments as the gold standard. This is our time to make change happen. Our work is funded entirely by your generous support, so please make a donation today to help us free animals from laboratories for good.

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Page last modified on December 15, 2021 3:52 pm