Jesuit recognised for cancer cell research

A Jesuit studying at Oxford University has been awarded the runner-up prize for the Peter Beaconsfield Prize in Physiological Sciences, 2014. Fr Sumeth Perera SJ from Sri Lanka is in the second year of his DPhil. A member of the Campion Hall Community, he is reading for his doctorate in Genetics at the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics (DPAG), working in the Goberdhan and Wilson laboratories.

The Peter Beaconsfield Prize, which is open to postgraduate students in Physiological Sciences, is intended to reward young researchers who are capable of escaping from the stereotype of narrow specialisation to engage with translational medicine, and display a wider grasp of the significance and potential applicability of their research. Previous prize winners have gone on to develop their research internationally.The 2014 winner of the Peter Beaconsfield Prize, Dr Manish Kalla, is also a DPAG student. The award is made by the medical sciences division of the University of Oxford. 

“I'm interested in cancer cell communication,” says Fr Perera. "Cancer cells send out signals that allow them to grow and invade our bodies. Some of these signals are packaged into tiny particles called exosomes. In particular, we attempt to understand how certain exosomes in colorectal and breast cancer cells are regulated and what role they play in educating neighbouring cells."  Fr Perera has discovered during the course of his research that these particles are altered by drugs that are used to treat cancer patients and he has been investigating whether this allows cancer cells to resist the effects of these drugs.

“Cancer treatments are becoming increasingly sophisticated,” he explains, “but there are still major gaps in our understanding of how these treatments work and why they don’t always block cancer growth. One of those gaps is in our understanding of exosome function, and the new phenomenon I have discovered may ultimately influence the ways that we treat cancer patients and recognise whether treatments are working.”

Another Jesuit scientist to receive an award recently is astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ. He received the Carl Sagan Medal for "outstanding communication for an active planetary scientist". Read more here.