Uni of LeicesterThe mechanisms that cause cancers to respond poorly to therapy are to be investigated in a project that commemorates and honours the work of an eminent University of Leicester geneticist.

The research by PhD student Danae Georghiou is the inaugural project funded by the University’s Pritchard PhD Prize, established in honour of the founding professor of the Department of Genetics, Professor Bob Pritchard. The Department has honoured his contribution with a PhD studentship following his death in 2015.

Former colleagues and students of Professor Pritchard are also commemorating him through a new book titled The Life of Professor Robert Hugh Pritchard: The Rise of Genetics at Leicester, which gathers memories about his scientific and personal life. His early, crucial contributions to decipher the gene structure and mechanism of recombination in fungi, and those in bacterial physiology and the cell cycle in bacteria and eukaryotes, are briefly summarised.

The topic of the first project supported by the Pritchard PhD Prize investigates why many cancers respond poorly to anticancer therapeutic agents or develop resistance with time. Currently, the mechanisms by which resistance to chemotherapy drugs or radiotherapy occur are very poorly understood, hindering the development of better therapeutic strategies that significantly improve patient outcomes.

The first aim of Danae’s PhD project, supervised by Dr Steven Foster and Professor Ed Louis, will be to develop an innovative genetic screening approach in the model organism, budding yeast, to make previously unattainable discoveries on how cells regulate resistance to therapeutic agents at the genetic and molecular levels. Ultimately, these studies will help identify potential new therapeutic targets for further investigation during the second part of Danae’s PhD and beyond.

There is a significant link between Danae’s PhD project and the research interests of Professor Bob Pritchard. One of Professor Pritchard’s main research areas was using bacteria as model organisms to study DNA replication and the co-ordination of this process with cell growth and division, which are all critical activities in cancer cell development and growth.

Danae Georghiou said: “It’s a great honour for me to be awarded with the Departmental studentship named after the founder, Professor Bob Pritchard, who defined the character of the Department of Genetics as a collegial and supportive environment to work and undertake research.”

“My drive to study biological sciences at the undergraduate, postgraduate and research level stems from my strong interests in how life functions. In particular, my MSc project in the Department of Genetics motivated me to pursue a research career in using model systems to study cancer cell genetics and cell biology. The opportunity to continue my research interests through the Pritchard PhD Scholarship provides an excellent opportunity for me to achieve this ambition.”

Danae’s grades have consistently been exceptional throughout her studies from BSc to MSc to PhD, and she has demonstrated her expertise through several prizes that she has been awarded throughout her studies, including the Chancellor’s Scholarship, a British Society of Cell Biology Summer Studentship, and the Sydney King Prize for best performing MSc student. She is of Cypriot nationality, and the Pritchard Studentship is open to all EU citizens.

Dr Steven Foster, Lecturer in Cancer Genetics and Danae’s PhD co-supervisor, said: “Given Danae’s excellent performance as an MSc student in my laboratory, it is clear that she is a very dedicated and talented student and that she has a very bright future in research. Hence, I am delighted she has been awarded the Pritchard PhD studentship to allow her to take the next step in her career path. I am sure she will make great contributions to both to my laboratory and the Department.”

Professor Bob Pritchard was appointed as a young professor (34 years old) in 1964 to open a new Department of Genetics at the University of Leicester, a department that thrived under his leadership to become internationally recognised for the quality of its scientific research and teaching.

Dr Meacock said: “I am delighted to see the publication of this book about Bob Pritchard who was an influential figure in the development of molecular genetics in the UK during the middle part of the last century and the founder of the Department of Genetics at Leicester. The idea for the book arose at the Department of Genetics 50th anniversary celebration in October 2014 when a group of Bob’s students and contemporaries felt that recognition was owed to this remarkable man for his contributions to science and society.

“The creation of this named PhD studentship by the department is a lasting tribute to Bob, and the topic of the project reflects his own research interests in seeking to understand how cells control their growth and division. I am sure that if he was still with us Bob would wish the student, Danae, every success in her studies and be fascinated to see the outcome.”