As the year draws to an end, we caught up with Leukaemia UK scientist, Kristina Kirschner to find out how the coronavirus pandemic impacted her work and how 2021 is shaping up for blood cancer researchers.  Based at the University of Glasgow, Kristina is funded through our John Goldman Fellowship programme. Her project aims to improve the early detection of blood cancer in the elderly. 

 

How did the coronavirus pandemic affect your research this year?  

At the end of March, we had to shut down the lab with only three days’ warning. It was very short notice, which meant all hands were on deck trying to finish experiments in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, we had to severely restrict some of our work and we still aren’t back to normal.   

Luckily, the bioinformatics training my team received, meant we were in good stead to work from home when we were in full lockdown. Since July, we are back at 20% occupancy in our building, so half my team can do lab work and the other half concentrates on data analysis from home. We have a shift system in the lab now, so everyone gets their fair share of lab time. 

How did you juggle work and family during lockdown? 

My husband and I introduced a shift system so we could care for our two boys and work as well. Our children are primary school age, so we had to work around their day. My husband is also a scientist and works full time at home. Wstarted work each day at 6am until it was time for PE with Joe Wicks with the kids. We home schooled the boys for four hours a day and used lunch time and late afternoon for Zoom calls to catch up with everyone in the research group and collaborators.  

My lab consists of two students from China, one from Spain and a technician from Taiwan. Two of the students were alone in student housing, so I needed to make sure everyone was ok. Most days, we caught up on emails until the late evening to keep on top of things.   

What kept you motivated? 

I love science and always wanted to run my own research group. By securing the John Goldman Fellowship, I got my chance to develop my own research ideas and I just didn’t want to waste this opportunity.  

How do you think blood cancer research has been affected in general by the pandemic?  

Funding for blood cancer research has dropped significantly and most funders can give out fewer grants for research, meaning a lot of good research will not be done now. It is harder to generate data with only 20% occupancy in the labResearch has slowed down significantly for everyone. Some experiments needed to be postponed all together until restrictions will be lifted. Access to patient blood samples for research is also difficult at the moment, meaning we need to find alternatives.  

Did anything go better than expected for you this year?  

My research group was amazing at pulling their weight and helping each other out - even more than they would normally do. It was nice to see the Glasgow cancer research community come together to support each other with resources and looking out for each other. I think it helped everyone to focus on the most important aspects of their research.  

What research are you planning for 2021 and what do you hope to achieve next year? 

I will finish my John Goldman fellowship next year. This project opened up a lot of new collaborations and avenues for future research and I am actively trying to secure funding for those follow up projects.  

My first Ph.D. student is due to graduate next year with nice data for her thesis and, if she passes successfully, this will allow her to continue her path in academia in a good lab elsewhere in this world. 

 

Thank you, Kristina. Find out more about our current blood cancer research projects