Modelling patient data to improve personalised cancer therapies

Hashem Koohy was awarded a PhD in Systems Biology from Warwick University in 2010. He then moved to the Sanger Institute for a postdoc position with Prof. Tim Hubbard to work on transcriptional regulation and gene function. He subsequently took on a postdoc at the  Babraham institute where he became interested in the regulation of the mammalian adaptive immune system. In 2017, Hashem joined Oxford as a junior group leader. He is currently an MRC-funded group leader at the Human Immunology Unit based at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM), studying mechanisms underlying heterogeneity of response in personalised cancer immunotherapies.

Over the past decade, different types of personalised immunotherapy treatments have revolutionised cancer treatment and significantly expanded survival time for cancers such as melanoma. However not all patients with these cancers benefit from or respond to immunotherapy the same way, and therefore biomarkers for improved response are highly sought. Moreover, cost reductions and advancements in sequencing technologies such as single-cell methods mean that patients may be associated with giga- (if not tera) bytes of data. A serious challenge lies in understanding and extracting biologically and immunologically significant information from these data, to develop insights into the complexity of the disease at question.

Hashem’s group applies mathematical and machine-learning models to high throughput sequencing patient data such as genomics, transcriptomics, epigenomics and proteomics. The data they are using to develop new models and algorithms comes from tens of thousands of patients. Their aim is to find out about the heterogeneity of response to treatment between cancer patients, ultimately hoping to hone our ability to offer personalised treatments to patients. Cancer vaccine targets are also part of this search, with a further aim being to predict vaccine targets that can be used as part of personalised vaccines to either prevent cancer initiation or train the immune system to find and destroy cancerous cells.

Hashem’s research is, by its nature, challenging and multi-disciplinary. He collaborates with a number of renowned immunologists within Oxford including the teams of Prof Cerudolo, Prof Simmons, and Prof Dong. Hashem is funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and HIU’s core budget.

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