Hannah Jackson 790A rollercoaster ride - continuing a cancer research PhD through coronavirus 

Hannah Jackson is now in the final year of her PhD here at the University of Nottingham, supporting the work of the Children's Brain Tumour Research Centre (CBTRC) by researching into Medulloblastoma. She updates us on how her work has progressed through a tricky six months...

  • Remind us of your story which brings you to where you are today:

Before undertaking my PhD I completed a biology undergraduate degree, it was during my degree that I developed a passion for cancer research and was keen to learn more. After my degree I took a short break and travelled around South East Asia and then got a job at quotient clinical as a research technician, I knew then that industry wasn’t for me so I decided to complete masters of research in Oncology. It was during my masters that I became part of the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre. 

  • And explain exactly what you are researching for the CBTRC?

My PhD project involves researching Medulloblastoma, the most prevalent type of malignant brain tumour which affects children. Over one-third of patients diagnosed with medulloblastoma have a metastatic tumour, meaning that the cancer cells have spread away from the initial tumour.

We think that metastatic cancer cells send ahead small packages called exosomes that work like a scouting party by travelling ahead of the cancer cells to find and prepare new sites for migratory cancer cells to settle. Exosomes are ideal biomarkers because they can be collected from the patient’s bodily fluids such as blood and cerebral spinal fluid. My research project is looking at the role of exosomes when medulloblastoma cells metastasise.

  • Sum up the last six months or so...

If I’m being completely honest the last six months have been the hardest and most stressful months of my PhD journey so far. My lab moved to a new building at the start of my final year and the coronavirus pandemic caused them to be shut down from mid-March and have still yet to be reopened. Unfortunately, my research project has suffered from these setbacks and the milestones we originally set out to achieve have not been met. With the new figures being released by Cancer Research UK on the impact of COVID-19 on cancer treatment – estimating that over two million people in the UK are waiting for screening, tests and treatments since lockdown began – it is apparent that the need for cancer related research is vital now more than ever. Therefore, I am currently desperately trying to secure funding for an extension so that I can complete the remaining essential experiments of my project. 

  • What have you learnt about yourself during the PhD?

I think my moto throughout my PhD has tried to be ‘keep calm and carry on’! A PhD really is like being on a rollercoaster, you have some really good days and some completely awful days too. I’ve learnt to celebrate the good days and try my best to move on from the bad days. I’ve had to accept that with science nothing ever works the first time. Despite all the stress and worry I definitely don’t regret taking on a PhD, I’ve learnt so much, become independent, improved so many skills and met lifelong friends along the way. 

  • What’s your motivation for completing it?

My motivation has always been that I want to make a difference, and believing that one day my research could help improve the life of a child with cancer is the biggest reason that I want to complete my research. 

Thanks to our research, funded by generous donations from grateful patients, families and community supporters like you, 7 out of 10 children will now survive a brain tumour – more than ever before. Since the centre opened 20 years ago our experts have treated hundreds of children directly and given hope to thousands more around the world.

Yet brain tumours remain the biggest cancer-killer of children and brain tumour research receives less than 1% of the UK's cancer research funding. This makes every penny you help us raise for the CBTRC incredibly valuable.