I decided to pursue a PhD in cancer research as I was fascinated in studying the human genome rearrangements underlying cancer pathogenesis. The high demand for analytical skills during my PhD work led me to pursue a second Master’s in Computational Biology at the University of Cambridge, where I learnt something new about topics, I was completely ignorant about, ranging from mathematical modelling of signalling and metabolic networks to artificial intelligence and machine learning approaches to build predictors of drug responses. This was a pivotal moment in my career, as it allowed me to use knowledge in applied mathematics, physics and computer science to solve complex biological problems that previously seemed impenetrable. For my postdoctoral training, I joined the laboratory of Lewis Cantley at Harvard Medical School, where I developed a further interest in studying the way cells consume and process nutrients, collectively known as metabolism, which differs between healthy and tumour cells and can even change the way they communicate with adjacent cells, grow, and importantly, respond to therapy.
In 2014, I joined the ICR as a Team Leader of the Signalling and Cancer Metabolism group to study how metabolic reprogramming is linked to oncogenic signalling and malignant transformation. Using unique and innovative approaches, my group’s research focuses on exciting yet highly achievable goals that stand to impact and ensure an effective translation of basic scientific findings to the clinic.
Translational research is a bidirectional process that links laboratory bench findings with clinical practice. However, the tools of laboratory research and clinical application have typically been in separate categories, especially regarding their applicability to cancer patients and tissues. A characteristic example is with mass spectrometry-based metabolomics approaches that are typically time consuming and require substantial expertise to acquire and apply data information in the clinic, resulting in a significant delay in the bench-to-bedside transition. To address this unmet clinical need, I led my group into using a truly translational metabolomics tracking tool - the intelligent Knife (iKnife) – from a surgical setting, where it was previously used for real-time identification of tumour margins, into a laboratory setting to identify and investigate signalling due to lethal breast cancer types by changes in lipid profiles.
At the BACR 60 Anniversary Meeting in Nottingham, June 2022
This study not only yielded a direct druggable target with an already approved agent that can be repurposed for rapid translation into the clinic, but also demonstrated the applicability of a truly translational tool allowing data to flow directly between the laboratory bench and the clinic. With appropriate clinical trials, immediate information on mechanistic characteristics of a resected tumour can transform cancer diagnosis and precision medicine. For example, identifying that a resected tumour has a characteristic signature of an increased metabolite that serves as a biomarker of an oncogenic driver or that is associated with poor response to a specific therapy could result in recommending more effective targeted therapies and/or implementing dietary restriction that limits this metabolite’s sources. Indeed, modulation of tumorgenicity through the implementation of “drug and diet” combinations is a topic of high interest in the current cancer literature.
I am truly honoured to receive the BACR/AstraZeneca Young Scientist Frank Rose Award for 2022 and humbled to join the distinguished list of past recipients. This award marks the achievement of a lot of brilliant scientists I have been fortunate to work with, including past and current members of my laboratory, as well as many great collaborators and mentors, to whom I owe an immeasurable debt. It gives me and my team a great motivation to keep improving and conduct impactful research that can benefit cancer patients and their families.
George Poulogiannis receiving the BACR/AstraZeneca Young Scientist Frank Rose 2022 Award from Ingunn Holen, BACR Chair
Following the announcement of this award I have received the UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship and have recently been promoted to a University Reader in Cancer Metabolism and Precision Medicine at ICR. For the next few years, my group will develop new lines of research to identify novel druggable vulnerabilities that link the tumour genotype, metabolic phenotype and nutrient availability, making a significant contribution to translational cancer research.
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