Dr Karin Oien, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Pathology at the Institute of Cancer Sciences, University of Glasgow and recently appointed Chair of CM-Path, tells us about her career in cancer research so far and what she’s most looking forward to in her new role as CM-Path Chair.
How/why did you get in to science?
My mum was a pharmacist. Sometimes she took me into her work. The coloured syrups were beautiful and it was amazing to see capsules and pills being made or counted. From then on I was fascinated with science and helping patients: medicine combined both. As a student, I did an intercalated degree specialising in pathology, the study of disease – any abnormality of body structure or function – which can be detected by naked eye, with a microscope, or by looking for changes in the underlying molecules – molecular pathology. I loved it then and am still passionate about pathology today.
What have you been working on most recently?
We have been contributing to the nationwide Cancer Research UK Stratified Medicine Programme (SMP), in which patients with lung cancer have biopsy samples analysed. Specific DNA changes mean their cancer may respond to specific drug treatments – “stratified” or “precision” medicine – in the Matrix clinical trial, which is changing the landscape for patients with lung cancer. We’re also setting up one of the Research Council-funded Molecular Pathology Nodes, which will enable pathologists, scientists, clinicians and industry to work together on diagnostic tests for cancer as well as inflammatory and cardiovascular disease.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role as Chair of CM-Path?
Working with inspiring colleagues, funders and partner organisations to make a difference! Academic pathology – centred on research and teaching – has shrunk in recent decades. But pathology and pathologists are central to the science and practice of medicine, and to enabling stratified medicine approaches, with its new biomarkers, technologies and clinical trials: SMP is a great example. CM-Path is aiming to reinvigorate UK academic pathology by building back capacity and expertise to drive and support innovation – and that will benefit patients.
What do you perceive to be the biggest challenges in pathology cancer research?
There are challenges for both discovery and applied pathology cancer research. Tumours are heterogeneous and evolve over time and in response to treatment: but what controls this and how can it be best tested and targeted? Tissue specimens are a “snapshot” enabling diagnosis but we’re trying to get more information from ever smaller samples including blood. How can we handle tissue optimally to get that information? How can we get (even) more information out of less tissue? Is the tissue or blood sample representative?
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Family activities with our three small children; and music, listening and playing – double-bass or bass guitar – as much as possible.
If you could choose one piece of art (film/play/book/music) that you love, what would it be?
That’s tough! Two please: Primal Scream, Screamadelica; and for double-bass: Bach, Brandenburg Concerto No. 3.