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Scientist by Day, Ice Hockey Player by Night

24 September 2014

Dr Luke Piggott

Three years ago, Dr Luke Piggott made headlines worldwide when his research using anti-cancer agent TRAIL discovered that the drug knocked out the protein c-FLIP, which gives stem cells their drug resistance. At the time, he was balancing life as a PhD student and a professional ice hockey player with the Cardiff Devils.

Three years on, Dr Piggott is now involved in pioneering a new system for analysing human breast cancer tissue, working across the spectrum of clinicians, ethics committees and the NHS. Working with the European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute's Dr Richard Clarkson and clinicians from Llandough Hospital in Cardiff, Dr Piggott has established a new pipeline for collecting tissue from patients with cancer that enables more accurate research to be carried out.

"We were extremely fortunate to start discussions with clinicians who were fully engaged and enthusiastic from the start on this project," said Dr Piggott. "There is a whole host of processes you have to go through for this type of activity, which takes such a long time - most importantly, getting ethical approval from the University and the NHS."

Key to this has been the contribution from lead Research Nurse, Christine Morris, who has been responsible for administration and recruitment of patients to the study. "Ironically, we have found that it is the patient who is most keen to help out with providing their tissue for research purposes, but without full commitment from the clinical team, it can still be extremely difficult to recruit sufficient numbers to the study."

Thanks to funding from Breast Cancer Campaign, the Tissue Pipeline is finally in place. Consultant Radiologist, Dr Philippa Young, who is the lead clinician on the team is delighted with the progress to date:- "We hope to improve on our recruitment rates to the study over the next year, and aim to help Luke in his efforts to test a new experimental therapeutic for patients who relapse on the anti-oestrogen, tamoxifen."

Dr Piggott personally collects the samples three times a week from Llandough Hospital, bringing them back to the lab at the Institute, where he tests the susceptibility of tamoxifen resistant tumours to the anti-cancer agent TRAIL.

"We are extremely grateful to all those patients who have consented to providing their tissue for our research," added Dr Piggott. "Being able to work with human cells is a huge step forward in us being able to achieve a more personalised approach to cancer therapies."