Blood cancer expert puts GCU on the world map for cancer research

Bioscientist Dr Mark Williams has put Glasgow Caledonian University on the world map for cancer research and is fast becoming a recognised name in the field of blood cancer and therapy resistance.

He was invited to showcase his lab’s research at two major international events – Pharmacology 2021, the British Pharmacology Society 90th Anniversary Conference, and the annual Macrophage-directed Therapies Summit.

Cell and Molecular Biology Lecturer Dr Williams’ reputation has also led him to be invited to be guest editor for the highly-respected British Journal of Pharmacology and the Frontiers in Pharmacology Journals.

Research led by Dr Williams, and co-authored by senior PhD student Katie Miari, investigating new targeted treatments for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) reached a significant milestone earlier this year when their first peer-reviewed paper was published in the Frontiers in Cell and Developmental Biology journal.

The review paper ‘Macrophages in Acute Myeloid Leukaemia: Significant Players in Therapy Resistance and Patient Outcomes’ highlighted the importance of immune cells called macrophages in driving resistance to therapy.

Macrophages are large white blood cells that are an integral part of the immune system. Their job is to locate microscopic foreign bodies and ‘eat them’.

Co-authors of the paper included world-leading AML expert Professor of Pharmacology in Medicine Monica Guzman, from Weill Cornell University in New York, and Professor of Stem Cell Regulation Helen Wheadon, from Glasgow University’s Paul O’Gorman Leukaemia Research Centre.

Dr Williams has been working closely with Professor Guzman over the years, and he was the first scientist to import a cutting-edge research technique from the US to the UK aimed at increasing survival rates in patients diagnosed with AML.

The 3D model system recreates how leukaemic cells interact with bone marrow and could help make chemotherapy more effective for adults with AML.

Dr Williams co-chaired the Pharmacology 2021 conference international symposium entitled ‘Cancer Microenvironment and Pharmacological Interventions’ along with Professor Guzman, and shared their expertise and thoughts with students, researchers, industry, academics, and clinicians from across the globe.

Speakers included PhD student Katie, Professor Wheadon, Dr Simon Mendez-Ferrer, Reader in Transfusion Medicine at the University of Cambridge, Professor of Pediatrics and Pathology Yong-mi Kim, from the University of Southern California, and Professor Shaomeng Wang Director of the Michigan Center for Therapeutic Innovation at the University of Michigan.

Dr Williams said: “I was very pleased to have received really excellent and positive feedback from the audience – given that it was the first time I had co-chaired a major conference – saying the symposium was very insightful, the research that was presented was very up-to-date and cutting-edge, using new pharmacological strategies and interventions. We had really excellent established speakers from the UK and US who are leaders in their fields.

“The symposium focused on the development of novel systems to accurately model the cancer microenvironment, and also the development and use of novel strategies to circumvent microenvironment driven therapy resistance.”

Last week, Dr Williams was an expert speaker at the Digital Macrophage-directed Therapies Summit where scientists, who are finding new ways to target macrophages, which are responsible for drug resistance, cancer progression and drug resistance, share their findings.

Dr Williams said: “I shared my expertise, discussed the review paper and the results of the research we’ve been doing in the blood cancer lab at GCU.

“To be invited along to be an expert speaker at this world-wide cancer therapy summit was a huge privilege for me and for the reputation of the University. The people who attended were experts in the macrophage field, and industry leaders, focussing  on getting macrophage targeted therapies approved and into clinics.

“The summit organisers contacted me as an expert in the macrophage field to take part and suggest who else they should invite and focus on. To me that was a big deal, I was taken aback to be honest.

“And to be asked to edit a special edition and write a commissioned review on the back of the symposium for the British Journal of Pharmacology with Katie and Monica, and to guest edit the Frontiers in Pharmacology Journal was really the icing on the cake.”

Dr Williams said he couldn’t have done it without the support of Dr Sharron Dolan, Head of the Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Molecular Mechanisms of Long-Term Conditions Research Group Lead Professor Linda Scobie and Associate Dean Research Professor Kay Currie.

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