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A DPhil candidate at NDORMS, Caroline received the MRC Clinical Research Training Fellowship that has enabled her to further her research into head and neck cancer.

Caroline Morrell

Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), is a cancer of the lining of the throat. The number of people developing HNSCC is increasing each year, and between 30 and 70% die as a result. These tumours are made of a mixture of cancer cells, immune cells, and cells called fibroblasts, which usually help wounds heal. 

Fibroblasts’ most well-known function is the production of the extracellular matrix (ECM), a mixture of proteins that holds the cells together and helps them communicate. Immune cells help fight cancer and affect how well treatments work. However, it’s unclear what controls immune cells getting into tumours, and there is evidence in other cancers that fibroblasts and the ECM can create barriers to immune cells and stop them working effectively. The research fellowship will enable Caroline to explore this question in HNSCC, using cutting edge technology such as single cell spatial transcriptomics and multiplexed immunofluorescence. 

Commenting on the fellowship Caroline said: ‘I am delighted to have been awarded this funding. As a clinician, I see first hand the devastating impact that head and neck cancer has on my patients, and this gives me an opportunity to help a much wider group of patients than in day to day practice. I really enjoy the challenges of lab-based research and am grateful to be supported by a strong supervisory team from NDORMs and the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences.’

As well as the MRC fellowship, Caroline was also recently been awarded additional funding from the MRC to use the CosMx Spatial Molecular Imager at the Kennedy Institute. Providing valuable insights into cell biology at the single cell level, the CosMx technology will enable Caroline to identify cell-cell and cell-matrix interactions at the ligand-receptor level and detect active cellular pathways to provide new insights into the mechanisms of tumoral immune suppression.