Professor Anthony Chalmers is Professor of Clinical Oncology at the University of Glasgow, honorary consultant at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre and has recently become Chair of the NCRI Clinical and Translational Radiotherapy Research Working Group (CTRad), taking-up the reins from Professor Neil Burnett whose term as Chair has come to an end. Here, he tells us about his current research, what he considers are the most exciting developments in radiotherapy research at the moment, and what he enjoys doing most outside of work.
How/why did you get into clinical oncology?
In my first job as a surgical house officer I worked for a breast surgeon and spent lots of time discussing new diagnoses of breast cancer with the women on our ward. Although it sometimes felt a bit overwhelming, I found this aspect of the work extremely rewarding and by the end of the six month post I had pretty much decided I wanted to be an oncologist.
What are you working on right now?
I am delighted that my previous lab research combining PARP inhibitors with radiotherapy and chemotherapy has enabled me to develop a number of phase I clinical trials, mostly in patients with glioblastoma. Treating patients with radiotherapy-drug combinations that I’ve worked on in the lab for years is an enormous privilege and a huge responsibility. In the meantime we are undertaking preclinical evaluation of new drugs in combination with radiotherapy, looking for biomarkers that will help us identify which patients will benefit from them, and developing a new 3-dimensional (3D) tissue culture model of glioblastoma. We are very excited by the data our new 3D model is generating.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
There are three aspects that I absolutely love: the first is sitting down with a group of enthusiastic and smart people, taking a clinical problem and turning it into a properly formed research concept; the second is seeing experimental data for the first time, be it clinical or preclinical, and trying to work out what it means; the third is standing up in front of an audience to present new research findings and explain why they are important. The fact that I get to do all these things and many, many more is what I enjoy most about my job.
What do you consider to be the most exciting development in radiotherapy research at present?
There are so many! We are lucky to be working at a time when exponential advances in radiotherapy technology are taking place alongside major advances in our understanding of how tumours respond to radiotherapy. New technologies are vastly increasing the accuracy and precision with which we can deliver radiotherapy. This means we can endeavour to increase tumour cure rates by escalating radiation doses to the tumour, while at the same time reducing side effects by sparing the adjacent normal tissues. Combining this approach with new, molecularly targeted drugs has potential to significantly increase cure rates for a broad range of cancers.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I love being outdoors, either gardening or walking in the extraordinary landscapes of the West of Scotland. Indoors, I’m a keen classical pianist and until recently sang 1st bass with the City of Glasgow Chorus. I also love making and drinking cocktails.
Where in the world would you most like to visit?
We go to the Outer Hebrides every year to relax and revel in the amazing landscape. Of the places I haven’t yet visited, India is top of the list.