Dr Adrian Saurin

My name is Dr Adrian Saurin and I relocated to Dundee to set up my own research group in 2013 with the help of funding from the Ninewells Cancer Campaign. I grew up in Blackburn, Lancashire, but I did the majority of my training in London before spending four years in The Netherlands prior to moving to Dundee. Dundee was an exciting place for me to come and setup my group because it really is world-leading for biological sciences, and as you would expect, it has some cutting-edge research facilities. On a personal level, it was also ideal for me because my wife is Scottish, and it felt very much like we were moving home! In fact, we started a family shortly after we arrived (see picture – they grow up quickly!). 

It is hard for me to describe just how important the support of the Ninewells Cancer Campaign was for kick-starting my career. What was so important, was the fact that the funding allowed me to get cracking straight away doing experiments from day 1. I was able to buy essential equipment, reagents, and to recruit a PhD student to work alongside me in the lab. Crucially, this meant that I wasn’t bogged down having to try to raise funds to get going, which can be so difficult until you have a track record of success. And, freed from that pressure, we were able to make some crucial discoveries during those first few years that really laid the foundations for everything else that followed. 

We published our first big paper at the end of 2014 which revealed something important about a “traffic light system” that guards dividing cells and helps to protect them from cancer. That paper was crucial because I received the next major funding I applied for afterwards, which happened to be a large award of £1.3M from Cancer Research UK that has funded my lab ever since. It felt very much like the Ninewells Cancer Campaign had given me that first crucial step-up, which allowed me to prove myself to the larger national funders. After that, everything else just clicked into place. So, relatively small sums of investment at the right stage of your career can really snowball into something much bigger. That is why the Ninewells Cancer Campaign do such an important job for science and cancer research, and personally I will never forget those early days and how it all started for me. 

I am now coming towards the end of that first big Cancer Research UK award and we have been able to go on to make many more exciting discoveries about how our cells divide safely without errors. This is particularly important from a cancer perspective because most cancer cells fail to do this, which is part of the reason they can adapt so well and become resistant to chemotherapy. If we understand how they do this then perhaps we can develop better anti-cancer treatments in the future. We have also begun recently to investigate how current anti-cancer drugs work, and I think this will be a big area for the lab going forward. In particular, we have just discovered something surprising and important about how a major new class of breast cancer drugs work. This could pave the way for more effective treatment of breast cancer, and potentially, allow these drugs to be used effectively against other tumour types. This is something we’re very excited to follow up over the coming years.