Completion date: PhD 2009, Postgraduate Diploma in Oncology 2010
Dr Susana Banerjee completed her PhD and second year of her Postgraduate Diploma in Oncology at The Institute of Cancer Research, and is now a Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. She continues her research collaborating with the ICR and is the lead for clinical and translational trials in gynaecological cancers.
While working as a junior in Oncology at the Royal Marsden Hospital, Susana realised she wanted to pursue a career in oncology and worked towards becoming a Specialist Registrar. She was awarded the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade Fellowship which allowed her three years out of her clinical work to do a PhD at the ICR.
“I chose to do a PhD as I wanted to push the boundaries of treatment of cancer patients and have a better understanding of research in order to better manage my patients. At the Royal Marsden, I glimpsed first-hand the amazing work the ICR contributes to cancer research. The familiarity of the location and people involved also affected my decision. It was both convenient and happens to be one of the best cancer research centres in the world.”
Susana’s PhD thesis investigated the interplay between oestrogen hormone signalling, and the formation and development of blood vessels (angiogenesis) in breast cancer. Her series of studies provided substantial, new insight into the significance of the vascular endothelial growth factor protein (VEGF) in ER-positive breast cancer - a type of breast cancer that needs oestrogen hormone to grow. This work also led to the discovery that a single drug inhibits aromatase, which the body needs to produce oestrogen, as well as VEGF receptors, which are important in the formation and development of blood vessels during cancer growth.
The results indicate drugs that can inhibit two important targets at the same time could be developed. Susana published her research in prestigious journals: Cancer Research, Clinical Cancer Research and Nature Clinical Practice Oncology. She presented her work at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium where she received the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium Novartis Oncology Basic Science Award in 2007. She also won the McElwain Prize (Association of Cancer Physicians) and the Sir Antony Driver Prize (Breakthrough Breast Cancer), and was 'highly commended' for the Pfizer BOA Young Investigator Award. Having plenty of opportunity to present and publish her work during her PhD allowed her to be well prepared for high profile presentations and her current role.
A medical background was not a problem when studying for a PhD at the ICR: “I found my colleagues and supervisors at the ICR very supportive of me being a medic. My patient-orientated approach to laboratory research was a positive contribution to the research team. With lunch time meetings in the canteen, Friday drinks and ICR organised parties there was a very friendly atmosphere with plenty of opportunity to informally discuss any project problems with colleagues.”
The Postgraduate Diploma in Oncology at the ICR provided further opportunity to develop useful skills to enhance Susana’s career. “The course provides a theoretical understanding of cancer and research methodology and how to apply this knowledge in the clinical setting. This was very useful for everyday clinical practice.”
Inspired by her studies at the ICR, Susana was motivated to pursue a career in research alongside her clinical work. Susana supervises students, hoping to engage them in research and pass to others the experience she received at the ICR. “My PhD and Diploma gave me a great foundation in cancer research. It provided me with a platform to understand and critically assess translational research in order to now design and conduct biomarker-driven clinical trials. “My experience at the ICR has had a great influence on my career and I hope to pass this on to students in the future.”