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Dr Hayley Whitaker
3rd floor
Charles Bell House
43-45 Foley Street
London
W1W 7TS
Appointment
  • Reader in Cancer Biology
  • Department of Targeted Intervention
  • Div of Surgery & Interventional Sci
  • Faculty of Medical Sciences
Biography

April 2015-present: University College London: Group Leader, Molecular Diagnostics and Therapeutics Group

June 2014–March 2015: CRUK Cambridge Institute. Lead Scientist of the Biomarker Initiative. Identification and validation of cancer biomarkers

2010-June 2014: CRUK Cambridge Institute. Lead Scientist – Biomarkers Initiative (25-50% of time). Principal Scientific Officer (50-75% of time)

2007-2010: CRUK Cambridge Research Institute. Research Associate in the laboratory of Professor David Neal. Identification and validation of prostate cancer biomarkers.

2004-2007: Department of Oncology, MRC/Hutchison Building, Cambridge. Research Associate in the laboratory of Professor David Neal. The function of LYRIC/AEG-1 in prostate cancer.

March-October 1999: Department of Cancer Cell Biology, Imperial College London. Research Assistant for Dr. Charlotte Bevan working on androgen receptor co-regulators in prostate cancer.

1998-1999: Sanger Centre, Cambridge. Junior finisher on chromosome six as part of the human genome project.

1995-1996: Daresbury Laboratories, Warrington, Cheshire. Paid year in industry for degree course. Protein crystallography of Pf1 gene V protein and EcoR123/4.

Research Groups
Research Summary

Developing novel diagnostic biomarkers for prostate cancer

Despite recent advances the mainstay of prostate diagnosis remains serum prostate specific antigen (PSA), despite its poor sensitivity and specificity. As the genetic mechanism underpinning prostate cancer development is elucidated, we are moving away from diagnosing all cancers and towards diagnosing only clinically significant disease to avoid the potential pitfalls of over diagnosis and treatment.  

The Whitaker Lab working on DNA, RNA and protein panels that can be detected in biopsy tissue or fluidic patient samples such as blood, serum, plasma or urine. These panels are being developed and validated in patient samples from the INNOVATE and PROMIS trials. We are also working with a variety of academic, biotech and pharma partners to combine our results with additional novel tests in development.


Combining biomarkers with imaging

Until fairly recently prostate cancer was the only solid cancer that was not imaged prior to biopsy – leading to random biopsies that could often miss significant cancers. UCL has lead the field in developing multiparametric MRI (mpMRI) to targt biopsies to suspicious regions and diagnose clinically significant cancers. However, mpMRI is not perfect – a small number of significant cancers can be missed by mpMRI or a lesion can be seen on mpMRI that is not cancer when the area is biopsied.

 

We are working on a number of projects to understand what mpMRI can actually see and which pathological and molecular characteristics can lead to these false positive and negative results. By doing this work the long term goal is to improve the way mpMRI collects images and ‘dial out’ the noise while amplifying the positive signals. Ultimately this will make mpMRI available to all men who need one and ensure that they are as accurate as possible.

 

Developing tests to aid treatment decisions

Men diagnosed with prostate cancer are often faced with a choice of treatments and it can be challenging to decide which is the most appropriate treatment. We are looking for ways to inform men which treatment will give the best chance of prolonging life, or cure, with minimal side effects. To examine this we are growing tissue from men having radical surgery in dishes (ex-vivo culture) and treating with new drugs. Using this method we can see which drugs kill cancer cells and leave normal cells unharmed and how this changes between patients based upon their genetic make-up.  

Teaching Summary

I am module Lead for MSc Nanotechnology and Regenerative Medicine SURGGN02: Practical Demonstrations of Cell-Material Interactions


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