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Viral ImmunoTherapies and Advanced therapeutics Laboratory summer placement

Author: Arthur Littler, Cardiff University


Over the summer of 2023, I was fortunate enough to join the Viral ImmunoTherapies and Advanced therapeutics Laboratory (VITAL) at Cardiff University for a 6-week placement, funded by a BSGCT bursary. During these 6 weeks I followed Dr Bayliss’s research into developing an oncolytic bispecific virotherapy targeted to various types of cancer. In the period I was there, the focus was on two pancreatic cancer cell lines which were being used to assess various metrics in response to a panel of developed virotherapies.

 

Throughout this process I was able to learn the various techniques involved such as cell co-culture, flow cytometry, viability assays and organoid assays. Using these processes, we were able to assess the efficacy of multiple bispecific molecules which used different means to target the cancer cells and understand the variation in response between different cell lines regarding transfection, and transgene transcription.

 

The bi-specifics being assessed targeted both T-cells and NK cells, with the latter being only briefly covered in my course material. As a result, I was thankful of the opportunity to learn of the role of NK cells in normal physiology, and the possibility to exploit them to kill cancer cells.  It was also interesting to learn of the challenges associated with both NK cell and T cell targeted bi-specifics, and the desire to optimise NK cell based therapies to provide better responses whilst avoiding tipping the immune system to become overactive.

 

Whilst the placement included lots of lab-based work, there was also a significant amount of data analysis included which has given me a greater understanding of experimental design with relation to positive and negative controls.  It was interesting to learn how different techniques, such as flow cytometry, require specific controls such as “fluorescence minus one” and unstained controls, and how these are used in data analysis to provide accurate results.

 

Along with Dr Bayliss’s work, I was also able to watch some other researchers in the lab performing different experiments relating to Dr Bayliss’s work that had been completed prior to my arrival. This included virus purification, quantification via micro-BCA, and recombineering. Additionally, I was able to observe some other research that differed to Dr Bayliss’s work such as viral RNA characterisation using a nanopore device for research into adenoviral transcriptome. I was grateful to have the opportunity to explore a wide variety of techniques and research areas within the field of virology and gene editing, especially for its ability to help me understand the full background of Dr Bayliss’s research which has led to the current timepoint.

 

Furthermore, the ability to talk to various scientists at different points in their career gave me great insight into how careers progress in research, as well as the structure and organisation of a PhD. The experience has made me more interested in using my degree to pursue further education as well as eventually work within the field of biological research. I’m grateful to Dr Bayliss, the VITAL group, and the BSGCT for allowing me to undertake this placement with me being able to leave with such a positive experience.

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