Trainee surgeon receives MRC fellowship | Research News

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Trainee surgeon receives MRC fellowship

Pic of Trainee Surgeon Charles Rayner

Congratulations to trainee surgeon, Charles Rayner, who has been awarded a Medical Research Council (MRC) Clinical Research Training Fellowship to support his PhD research into training the body's immune system to fight cancer of the gullet, known as oesophageal cancer.

This highly competitive MRC three-year fellowship funding supports salary and study costs, allowing protected time to concentrate on research, training and development. Oesophageal cancer is the seventh most common cause of cancer death and kills around 8,000 people in the UK a year – that is 22 people every day. Charles’ project focuses on oesophageal adenocarcinoma, the most common form of oesophageal cancer in the UK.

Using a cutting-edge imaging technique – multispectral immunohistochemistry – the first part of his research will investigate the number and interactions of immune cells found within cancerous tumours of the oesophagus. Knowledge gained from this research will help inform immunotherapy treatment, which uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to fight diseases, by identifying which immune cell types need to be increased in order to fight the cancer.

The second stage of his research will explore the use of oncolytic (cancer-killing) viruses which will trigger an immune response in the body and kill tumours in the organ without affecting normal oesophageal tissue. It is believed that once the immune system is trained to kill the primary tumour, it will then hunt down disease elsewhere in the body without the need for further treatments.

Charles said: “I am delighted to have received this award to continue my research in this area. There is an urgent need for new treatments for oesophageal cancer as results from traditional treatment plans using chemotherapy and radiotherapy have been disappointing, with five-year survival rates of less than 15 per cent.

“Immunotherapy and the use of oncolytic viruses could prove to be invaluable in increasing survival rates for this type of cancer. However, before they are used, we need to learn more about them. My research and findings will help shed some light on this.”

His work is the result of a partnership between the Oesophago-gastric surgery team at Royal Surrey and the Oncology laboratory at the University of Surrey, where he undertakes his postgraduate research.

Charles first worked at Royal Surrey in 2015 as senior house officer during his core surgical training. He became inspired to incorporate research into his career and began a three-year PhD at the University of Surrey in 2019, while retaining regular shifts at Royal Surrey as a surgical registrar, and received his MRC fellowship at the start of this year (January 2021).

He said: “I have always had an interest in research, driven by a desire to have a deeper understanding of the condition I am treating and to make a difference to people’s lives beyond the local population.”

His clinical supervisor, Mr Nima Abbassi-Ghadi, consultant oesophago-gastric surgeon at Royal Surrey commented: “I would like to extend my congratulations to Charles on this fantastic achievement. This Fellowship is in recognition of all his hard work and dedication to this field of research. Oesophageal cancer is an aggressive and often fatal form of the disease, and it is important that we have researchers like Charles to identify new treatment options to treat patients in the future. This project marks the start of our department’s collaboration with the oncology laboratory at the University of Surrey and we are sure that it will continue to be a successful partnership.”   

His supervisor, Dr Nicola Annels of the oncology laboratory at the University of Surrey said: “The Targeted Cancer Therapy Research Group is very fortunate to have Charles as one of our current PhD students and this Fellowship award is testament to his dedication and enthusiasm for his important research. Immunotherapy for cancer has shown impressive results in patients with malignancies such as melanoma. However, there is still a lot to be understood in other types of cancer such as oesophageal cancer to extend these treatment benefits to these patients too. We hope this project is the start of a long and research productive collaboration with our oesophago-gastric clinical colleagues at Royal Surrey.”

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