NCMM Alumni: Simer Bains
Former NCMM PhD student, Simer Bains MD, describes her time as a PhD student in the Taskén group at BiO and NCMM, and what she has gone on to do since graduating in 2016.
Can you tell me a bit about your PhD project and what you, ultimately, hoped to discover?
I started full-time in Kjetil (Taskén)'s group as a student researcher in 2008, after finishing my second year as a medical student. I continued in this role part-time for several years, before finishing off with one year as a PhD student. My primary interest from the very beginning has been anti-tumor immunity, and my first project was related to regulatory T cells. We were trying to find a transmembrane/extracellular molecule that differentiated these cells from other T cells. We actually ended up finding a phenotypic molecule that also highlighted the effect of these rare cells. That work resulted in my first published paper in Blood, in collaboration with a post.doc. in our group, Therese Solstad.
Following that project, my research took a more clinical turn and, due to our close collaboration with the Department of Gastrointestinal Surgery at Oslo University Hospital, my focus shifted more towards colorectal cancer. I contributed to an observational study on multimodal approaches in metastatic colorectal cancer. When I returned to the group as a PhD student, my project examined the effects that aspirin might have on colorectal cancer survival. This, ultimately, led to an oral presentation at ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) Annual Meeting in 2015 and a paper in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
What have you gone on to do since defending your thesis?
Since defending my thesis in January 2016, I have worked as a clinical oncologist both at Oslo University Hospital and Akershus University hospital, combined with a 20-40% part time postdoctoral position in the group of Anne Hansen Ree, who also happened to be my third opponent during my PhD defence. In her group I am working with translational research on antitumor immune responses in colorectal cancer patients. In these projects I’m able to combine my clinical experience with my molecular background from my time at NCMM.
How do you think a PhD at NCMM prepared you for where you are now?
My research experience from NCMM has been invaluable as a clinician in a fast-moving field such as oncology. A molecular background and an understanding of basic science is crucial to be at the forefront of recent advances in oncology, especially now that next-generation sequencing has become increasing available for cancer patients and is used to direct available treatment options.
In addition to being a formal requirement for a permanent position at university hospitals, the knowledge and understanding of molecular oncology I gained from my PhD is something I find extremely useful in everyday clinical practice.
Furthermore, when I started my career as an oncologist in 2015, check-point inhibitors and immunotherapy was in the midst of changing the field of oncology and the available treatment options. I was lucky to have worked with antitumor immunity during my PhD, giving me an opportunity to more easily understand the mechanisms underlying the treatment.
In addition, it has been valuable to work closely with non-medical colleagues and to have their perspective and views both on clinical challenges and the scientific solutions needed to overcome them.
Do you have any particular memories or highlights from your time as a PhD student at NCMM? Are you still in touch with your supervisor or former peers/colleagues?
I was affiliated with Kjetils’ group for almost 8 years, and feel that I almost grew up there. I have made life-long friendships that I hold dearly, and I continue my research collaboration with my supervisor and other collaborators from my time as a PhD-student.
I have fond memories from several retreats, long evenings and nights(!) in the cell-lab, and the everyday conversations with office-mates. But my two favourite memories that stand out are when I presented my research in front of > 3000 colleagues at the ASCO congress in 2015, and my thesis defence. Both are absolute highlights from my time at NCMM.