Over many years, the University of Aberdeen has received generous support from the John Shivas Memorial Trust. Here, we look back on their support of the John Shivas Young Researchers Fund which has provided fantastic opportunities for a number of postgraduate students over the years. Their investment in these brilliant young individuals, who have demonstrated outstanding ability in their field, at the beginning of their careers, is providing inspiration for the outstanding research leaders and experts of the future.
In 2021, Farah Al Fatyan, a postgraduate research student at the Institute of Medical Sciences, received a grant from the John Shivas Young Researchers Fund which enabled her to present her research data at the British Society of Immunologists (BSI) Congress in Edinburgh.
Also a recipient of an Elphinstone Scholarship, Farah is undertaking vital research in the field of cancer immunology – an area in which interest has grown in recent years. In contrast to chemotherapy, immunotherapy attacks cancer cells by boosting the immune system rather than killing the cells directly. Farah studies the immunoregulatory properties of a variant of an immune checkpoint which are proteins expressed by cells to prevent an immune response from being so strong that it destroys healthy cells in the body.
Dr Frank Ward, Farah’s main supervisor, says that her work with immune checkpoint inhibitors “will provide a road map for further refining their efficacy”. He greatly praised her work during lockdown, when she completed an extensive systematic review highlighting different types of cancer that produce a novel protein they use to evade the immune system. Dr Ward states that the information Farah generated “is likely to have an immediate impact on current checkpoint inhibitor-based antibody therapies, which is an enormous achievement for a student in only her second year of study”.
Farah was passionate about presenting her findings at the BSI Congress but did not have the necessary funds to cover her travel and other expenses, so she decided to apply to the John Shivas Young Researchers Fund.
Her application was successful and attending the Congress, the first conference she would attend, has helped her expand her knowledge and facilitated her introduction to other scientists, professors, postdoctoral researchers and PhD students who have similar research interests. She was able to discover vital information about the achievements and insights of other scientists in the field of immunology and cancer immunology and was delighted to be able to share her own work in the form of a poster presentation. Meeting with numerous company representatives also enabled her to learn much more about the most recent available technologies in her field.
Farah aims to keep researching and working in the field of cancer immunology after completing her postgraduate studies and the funding awarded to her has helped her take a significant step towards that goal. She extends her heartfelt gratitude for the generous support from the John Shivas Young Researchers Fund and its donors and said “Attending the BSI Congress gave me an opportunity to present my PhD project and my lab results and to form collaborative partnerships with labs from other universities. It helped broaden my knowledge base in immunology generally, but also provided a deeper understanding of how the exciting field of immunotherapy is developing. It was my first time attending a conference and I would like to thank the John Shivas Memorial Trust very much for giving me this opportunity.”