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Asmita Thapa is a DPhil student in Eric O’Neill’s lab. Asmita gives us an overview of her research on molecular mechanisms in Pancreatic Adenocarcinomas, discusses how her work may be beneficial for earlier detection of this cancer and talks about life in the lab.

 What topics are you pursuing in your lab?

My primary area of focus is investigating molecular mechanisms involved during the multi-step progression of pancreatic adenocarcinoma (PDAC). Particularly, I am interested in looking at the role of an oncogene, YAP, which could potentially drive early precursor lesions into aggressive phenotype in PDAC.  Furthermore, I am examining to see if the expression of YAP can be related to PDAC’s cell of origin.

 What are the challenges involved with your research?

There have been many challenges during my PhD training which I believe are fairly frequently faced by scientists in general. I particularly found the uncertainty and failed experiments quite strenuous.

For my specific research, finding the best models and techniques to study early stage of PDAC progression have proven to be difficult.  Nevertheless, I found these challenges quite motivating and engaging as I was able to exercise problem solving skills.

 Why does your research matter?

PDAC is a very lethal disease. The survival rate of PDAC patients is extremely low, with only 3% patients making it to 5-year survival period in the UK. This is mostly attributed to the lack of early detection. Moreover, the patients diagnosed for PDAC are mostly presented at advanced stage with metastatic disease. As my research is mainly focussed on looking at the underlying mechanisms during early stages of PDAC development, it might be beneficial in identifying patients with high-risk neoplastic precursor lesions. We also aim to highlight the importance of PDAC patient stratification based on cell of origin for better prognosis.

 Can you tell us what’s it like working in the lab?

My work in the lab is vastly dominated by the routine of conducting experiments. These include both setting up new experiments and carrying out repeats. The repetition principle, although extremely crucial in research, might make every day work seem pretty unvaried. Working in the lab, however, has been an intriguing, gratifying and exciting experience for me.  This is mainly due to a number of experiments that I was able to perform using different research settings and techniques.

Additionally, I have learned the importance of finding a right balance between carrying out experiments and doing literature reviews. Overall, this has allowed me to appreciate the value of good time management skills.

 Tell us about your career journey so far

Since my final year research project during my undergraduate degree, my journey in cancer research has been a constant learning process. Cumulatively, all the opportunities and experiences I was fortunate enough to gain led me to where I am today. But none of this would have been possible without the extreme support and guidance that I received from my family, friends and supervisors. They have been my biggest moral support, especially at times of self-doubt.

The chance to work alongside great researchers with a plethora of knowledge and expertise during my PhD has been tremendously inspiring. This has enabled me to grow and improve my scientific skills through their help and supervision.

 What do you get up to outside of work?

Outside of work, I find myself either reading books or cooking, sometimes both at the same time. In terms of sports, I have to say I am quite inactive. However, I had always been curious to learn different dance forms. This encouraged me to join contemporary dance lessons which I found really enjoyable.