TSA Funded Research – An interview with Dr Elaine Dunlop, Cardiff University
Dr Dunlop has worked at Cardiff University for some years including working on a number of important projects funded by the TSA. This year we funded Elaine as an investigator to undertake a PhD Studentship entitled ‘Characterising the role of exosomes in Tuberous Sclerosis Complex’

More information can be found HERE

We caught up with Elaine to find out more about her career to date, her planned research and life outside the lab.

• Please describe your academic and career history to date?
I started my scientific career in Belfast, undertaking my undergraduate degree and then PhD in cancer research at Queen’s University. I moved to Cardiff to take up a post-doctoral position in Andy Tee’s laboratory, looking at mTOR signalling in TSC cells. During my time at Cardiff I have researched both TSC and another rare genetic condition, Birt-Hogg-Dubé syndrome, which shares some overlapping features with TSC. I have been gradually building up my research career at Cardiff and am now developing my own TSC-focussed projects to better understand the condition and potential ways to treat it.

• What motivates you to work in the area of TSC research?
I have always had an interest in human biology, including what can go wrong with our cells and how we might fix that. I wanted to use my scientific knowledge to have a positive impact on patients’ lives and working in the TSC field really fulfils that. There is a really supportive TSC research community and it is very motivating to hear from patients and their advocates about the challenges they face and how we, as researchers, can work with them to improve their treatment options.

• You are based at Cardiff University an important centre for TSC Research. Could you tell us about the important work undertaken there especially around furthering our understanding the mechanisms involved in TSC?
One of the advantages about working on TSC at Cardiff University is working with a scientific team which spans genetics, cellular biology and pre-clinical models and has regular contact with clinicians involved in TSC patient care and clinical trials. Our work, which studies how signalling in TSC cells operates differently from that in normal cells, can be influenced by genetic findings (DNA mutations found in patients) and can sway which drugs are chosen to test in pre-clinical studies. Having an integrated team under one roof helps streamline moving our findings from cell studies to enhanced treatment options for patients.

• Please could you tell us about the work you will undertake as part of your TSA funded PhD Studentship.
TSC cysts do not exist in isolation, but are surrounded by, and interact with, normal cells within the body.  Little is known about the role of adjacent normal cells in TSC disease progression. Our TSA funded PhD project will investigate TSC cell communication with these normal cells to determine if TSC cells can signal to and hijack surrounding normal cells to increase cyst growth. We are collaborating with world-experts in cell-to-cell communication in the microenvironment and we aim to identify signalling pathways that could be targeted to impair cyst growth, thereby revealing potential new strategies for treating TSC. I am excited to have this new avenue of research up and running in the lab.

• Could you tell us about the PhD student who will be working with you?
We have recruited an excellent, motivated PhD student, Muireann, to work on this project. She has just completed her Masters in Research in Precision Cancer Medicine and comes to us with lots of skills in analysing cell signalling which will be perfect to get this project off to a great start. She attended the recent TSC Ireland Annual Meeting which gave her an insight into TSC research and reinforced her existing motivation to translate lab findings into making a difference for patients. We are delighted to welcome her into the TSC research team.

• Could you tell us a bit more about yourself outside of the lab and science? 
I have a keen interest in sport, having played a wide variety myself, including less well-known ones such as korfball. I don’t get as much time to pull on my running shoes these days as my two little boys have taken over my life! In between playing trains and watching ‘Go Jetters’ we do like getting out and about to explore the parks and woodlands near us.

Finally, do you have anything you would wish to say to the UK TSC community?
I would like to thank the TSC community for supporting our lab work in Cardiff. It is great to know they are behind the work we are doing and together we can help improve the options for TSC patients.