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Welcome to Dr Henry Adeola

Adeola Henry

Dr Henry Adeola


This has been an exciting month for the Cancer Research Initiative. Cancer mentorship group alumnus Dr Henry Adeola has been appointed as the Project Manager for the Cancer Research Initiative and will be involved in managing projects and research development activities in the CRI. He will also be extending his role to involve mentoring PhD students in the Cancer PhD mentorship group and will be one of the first PhD graduates to do so. Together with other recent PhD graduates, Dr Adeola intends to establish a peer-based mentorship program to enhance cancer research and to provide advice for current PhD students.


Dr Adeola has recently completed his PhD in cancer proteomics and genomics at the University of Cape Town through an International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) fellowship.  Specifically he used mass spectrometry and protein microarray techniques to identify novel potential urinary and serological biomarkers of prostate cancer. Whilst completing his PhD Henry worked as a part-time Lecturer at the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, University of the Western Cape/ Tygerberg Hospital.

Henry is a great addition to the team and I am certain he will be instrumental in paving the way forward for the Cancer PhD mentorship group.

CRISPR technology: A tool for translational cancer research?

CRIPSR technology Apr 2016 Blog*CRISPR technology: A tool for translational cancer research?

Irrespective of your field of interest, I am sure that like me, you feel more than intrigued to explore novel technologies that claim to “revolutionise” the approach to cancer therapy. When the mainstream media and major leading journals reported on the CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”) gene editing technology at the end of last month, I found myself inclined to further understand what this could mean for research and more importantly how this could affect individuals with cancer.

Short for ‘Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats’, this technology gives scientists a tool to specifically target genes and make precise cuts in DNA. Compared with earlier genome editing, the CRISPR system enables researchers to edit genes more efficiently and 200-times cheaper.

Scientists from the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) working in collaboration with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard have started using CRISPR to study a large collection of cancer cells lines known as the Cancer Cell Line Encyclopedia (CCLE) to explore potential gene therapies and to identify drug targets.  The questions I always find myself drawn to include: a) what does this means for patients suffering from cancer and b) how long will patients need to wait before this technology makes a difference to their lives?

Although it is difficult to approximate when this technology will be available in the clinical setting, we have already seen evidence that gene editing technology can be useful in treating people with cancer. In 2015, the high-profile story of Layla Richards (photograph below), a young girl diagnosed with leukaemia and then successfully treated with an experimental immune therapy at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital brought to light the potential value of this technology. Although this was done using TALEN (an older form of the CRIPSR technology), many experts in the field of gene editing believe that the CRISPR might make this type of gene editing immune therapy more accessible and cheaper.

As researchers, the end goal of translating novel technology to patient care must be prioritised. One can only hope that harnessing CRISPR technology for cancer research will continue to bring together physicians, laboratory scientists, bioengineers, and epidemiologists to achieve future advances in cancer patient therapy.

What are your thoughts as scientist, public health specialists and clinicians on this technology? What do you think needs to be done to ensure collaborative translational research to bring about advances not only in research but also in patient care? Please share your ideas and suggest how the PhD mentorship group can set precedence in driving this agenda forward in our own research settings?

CRIPSR techno 2 April 2016 blog

Image: Layla Richards, the first patient treated with genome-editing technology, at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London.

*Image: Illustration by Todd St. John




Survival tips for successfully navigating the PhD landscape

march 2Like a video game, the PhD journey is comprised of different stages which need to be completed in order to progress. Unlike a video game, there are no cheat codes to bypass treacherous obstacles encountered along the way. Before registering as a PhD student, I found myself searching for literature on what it takes to successfully complete a PhD. I write to you at the start of my PhD journey to share some of what I have read on the topic and hopefully, those of you who are well into studying the PhD can contribute to this list of guidelines.

  1. Find a routine that works for you. A good routine does not come in one size fits all. Many students work best first thing in the morning when the day has not taken its toll. Others, like me prefer to burn the midnight oil and have their best “aha” moments when the rest of the world sleeps. Either way, you need to decide what works best for you and stick to it.
  2. Manage your time well. Develop a Gantt Chart depicting objectives for each stage of the PhD.
  3. Know the role of your supervisor. Apart for you, the supervisor is likely to be the most significant individual in influencing the success of your PhD. The relationship between a PhD student and their supervisor should be based on mutual understanding and must be clearly outlined from the onset. Make sure you both know what is expected from each other and clearly define time frames and objectives along with your supervisor. It is important to have regular fixed meetings once a week or every two weeks during which the student and supervisor discuss problems.
  4. Present your research (even the proposal). This is invaluable for PhD students and will provide you with practice for conferences and thesis defenses. Presenting your work could lead to feedback, new ideas, new collaborations and novel approaches to your research for your PhD and career.
  5. Read widely around and beyond your topic in order to write critically. Set aside time every week to work exclusively on critically reading articles to get a clear overview of your research field. Keep track of new developments in your field by using internet tools to set topic alerts for new papers that are published. It is also important to read beyond your topic of interest to gain an understanding of what is currently being done and might assist in how you present your own research. Most importantly, write as you go.

  1. Take control of the research process. Don’t depend too much on your supervisor, as this is essentially your opportunity to come up with innovative ideas and to take the initiative.
  2. Planning is the key to success. Develop a clear timetable, plan ahead and keep to your deadlines.
  3. Don’t be afraid to seek help. There is a wealth of resources and expertise available at the university. Utilise these resources and be open to interacting with other students or investigators that have experience in conducting similar research. Although I have just started my PhD, I am already aware that librarians are your secret weapon. Most PhD students are unaware that you can meet with university librarians to discuss referencing, searching for literature, developing a literature review and a lot more.
  4. Never forget why you are on this path in the first place. Although your final PhD product might not be what you initially imagined, don’t become distracted and keep your eye on the bigger picture and on what you want to achieve. A good idea is to begin documenting your goals and what motivates you in an electronic journal when you start the process. Always revert to this when you require a little push to forge onwards.It’s a long road to travel and you need perseverance and fortitude to take the knocks and setbacks.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing so please share your experiences and tips on how you currently manage/ managed to work through the challenges in your own PhD journey.   Share your experiences and the skills you have developed along the way.

Some helpful resources:


Image: Almeida-Souza and Baets (2012) PhD Survival guide. Science and Society. EMBO reports. doi:10.1038/embor.2012.15

Compiled by: Vedantha Singh

Fallen Heroes: The battle against cancer continues

Fallen Heroes: The battle against cancer continues

Edited Blog Jan 16

The year has barely begun, but already the death of David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Rene Angelil (Celine Dion’s husband) and Lemmy Kilmister (Motörhead) has caused a social media outcry. Twitter erupted with a poignant image entitled “Dear Cancer” with the three men (Bowie, Rickman and Kilmister) defiantly giving a middle finger salute. The image has so far been shared more than 10,000 times and demonstrates the public outcry for cancer to be beaten once and for all.

The death of iconic musician and artist, David Bowie on 10 January 2016 after an 18 month battle with cancer has also inspired palliative care specialist Dr. Mark Taubert to write a blog highlighting the importance of advance care planning and hopes Bowie’s death will inspire many people in similar health crises to consider palliative care.

Alan Rickman’s (actor and director) death reportedly came after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. Steve Jobs, Patrick Swayze and Pavarotti all died of pancreatic cancer as well. There are no effective screening tests for pancreatic cancer, and it is difficult to diagnose.

The tragedy of losing these icons has propelled the ideology that a cancer cure is urgently required. This comes at a time when President Obama appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead efforts to eradicate cancer during the State of the Union Address. Biden, who lost his 46-year-old son Beau to brain cancer last year, said at a World Economic Forum meeting of international cancer experts in Davos that the United States would speed up the approval of promising new drug combinations in the government’s newly announced drive to cure cancer “once and for all”.

Following in these footsteps, our research has the potential to address this devastating disease. It may be naïve to suggest that we can find a cure for every form of cancer, but it is clear that we can and should contribute towards the battle against cancer.

Vedantha Singh

Cancer Research Initiative

Potential for cancer research collaborations in Africa: a clinical scientist’s opinion

By Dr Henry Adeola


I have been a member of the PhD cancer research mentorship program here at UCT for a couple of months now; and I have mused over the ultimate impact of this group. A question like “are we tapping into the full potential of the group or are we still scratching the surface?” remains moot. However, putting together an unbiased opinion regarding the tremendous potentials for cancer research in Africa is imperative. On the strength of my experience as a clinician as well as a scientist, I believe that team science that involves collaborative effort between scientists and clinicians is the best approach to address some of the peculiar scientific questions in evidence-based translational cancer research arena in Africa.

Since its inception, the mentorship group members have been granted access to giants in the field of cancer research both on the clinical and scientific front. In addition, its interactive environment allows for exchange of scientific ideas, and stringent peer review. Several scientific research meetings have been planned and executed for the benefit of this mentorship group with the university’s academic resource support.

The diversity and heterogeneity of research projects and scientific background (clinical and scientific) of its group members is undoubtedly a plus for the group. In my opinion, I believe this PhD mentorship group has huge future prospects of becoming a true African model of multidisciplinary research and providing huge cancer research resources to the rest of Africa, albeit it is a relatively small group and most of its members at currently in PhD training.

Translational Cancer Research: building bridges

bridgesThe Translational Cancer Research Course, co-hosted by ICGEB (International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology) and the Cancer Research Initiative (CRI), emphasised the need to develop an integrated approach to address the burden of cancer. During the week long course, which was held at the Protea Breakwater Lodge Hotel in Cape Town from 12-16 October 2015, participants gained a unique perspective and background knowledge of the disease from leading scientists in academia and industry, clinicians, and public health specialists.

During the course, I was particularly fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with emerging cancer researchers from South Africa, India, Iran, Kenya, Libya, Mauritius, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Zambia and Australia.

In my view, incentivising collaborative research will assist in bringing the gap between bench and bedside. Most of the participants I spoke to agree that institutions should do more to promote and incorporate translational research into the training of students.

The CRI has used seed funding to incentivize researchers to work together.  Essentially this is a competitive award that has been given to groups of researchers, where the research team includes researchers from more than one scientific domain (from basic, clinical or public health disciplines). It enables the team to collect pilot data for use in applying for larger interdisciplinary grants.

Any ideas on how else can we promote interdisciplinary translational research? What did you think of the course?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Vedantha Singh- Cancer Research Initiative


Delegates from the Translation Cancer Course 2015


“Rubbish in, rubbish out”

“Rubbish in, rubbish out”: Database management as a tool for research


When it comes to understanding an interpreting research data, the rule of thumb is “rubbish in, rubbish out.” This was the sentiment expressed by database manager Annemie Stewart from the Clinical Research Centre (CRC) at the recent Database management workshop hosted by the CRC and the Cancer PhD mentorship program. The workshop provided an outline of database planning, demonstrated the fundamentals of database design and provided a practical overview on using Microsoft Access to develop and manage research databases.

 Trained as a basic scientist, the management of data in my experience typically involved generating, processing and storing data for analysis. Developing into multidisciplinary scientist, I am now more aware than ever that the quality of research depends not only on the collection of data, but also on accurately maintaining data. Data is an invaluable resource which should be used for the benefit of a wider research community.

Effective data management is key to generating high-quality, statistically sound and reliable data. A well maintained database can be used to generate a plethora of novel research questions and provides opportunities of using existing data to inform new studies and collaborations. A number of software tools are available for data management, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. It is up to the researcher to understand what the various software options offer, and choose the system best suited for their purposes. Regardless of the choice of software or scientific field, responsible data management is important in all phases of research, from planning and data collection to data analysis and dissemination.

I am interested to learn more about your experiences using databases in research to understand the strengths and pitfalls of the various software platforms available. Please feel free to contribute or leave a comment.