Chrysostomou, DespoinaDespoina Chrysostomou – Supervised by Julian Marchesi

After graduating from the University of Sheffield with a BSc in Biomedical Sciences, I decided to undertake a Master’s degree in Functional Omics/Applied genomics at Imperial College London. The world-leading research conducted by the Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction attracted my interest to continue working towards the improvement of human health by committing myself in a PhD program. I chose Imperial College London for undertaking a PhD for 3 years, not only because of the great research opportunities it offers, but also because of the cultural diversity of the university. During my time here, I had the opportunity to connect with people from all-over the world, exchange ideas and broaden my horizon.

My MSc has ignited my passion in using multi-omics to provide a detailed view of the microbial world and its association with health and disease. We currently live in the era of stratified medicine, in which metabolomics constitute the central axis. Therefore, not only will metabolomic research toward biomarker discovery improve disease prognostic, diagnostic and susceptibility prediction tools, but also patient-tailored therapeutics. Despite this promising future of metabolic profiling research, there is still a large gap between microbiome understanding and application of diagnostic tests in the clinic.

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the most aggressive types of cancers associated with high death rates in the UK, annually. Studies conducted in recent years aim to delineate the role of gut microbiome in health and disease. The gut microbiome consist of a complex composition of symbiotic bacteria situated throughout the gastrointestinal system, interacting with the host, considered to be our body’s second brain. Strong evidence support that disturbance of bacteria composition can lead to the development of numerous metabolic disorders as well as colorectal cancer. Although the existence of robust diagnostic tools has contributed to the improvement of disease prognosis, current diagnostic methods such as colonoscopy are highly invasive. Hence, there is a great need for the development of a more accurate and non-invasive diagnostic tool that will have the potential to detect markers of diagnostic and prognostic importance. My PhD project focuses in delineating the role of gut microbiome in the efficacy and toxicity of chemotherapeutic agents used as a first line treatment in metastatic colorectal cancer patients. Metabolomic profiling of human samples such as blood and urine will lead to the identification of circulating metabolites that can be used as markers of chemotherapy efficacy and toxicity. Following that, metataxonomic analysis of stool samples will allow the identification of key bacteria players in the activation of chemotherapeutic agents.

Both during my MSc and PhD I had the opportunity to meet leading experts of the field and network with scientists from all over the world by attending conferences and academic meetings organised by the Faculty of Medicine. Additionally, I largely benefited from departmental events, such as internal talks, workshops and seminars that helped me merge in the field of science and grow as a researcher myself. Different courses organised by the Graduate school, provided me with necessary skills needed to communicate science successfully. Moreover, from a non-academic side of view, I have particularly enjoyed the huge variety of students society’s events organised throughout the year.

Collectively, the experience of undertaking a PhD will not only provide me with the required knowledge to build a successful career as a scientist but will also equip me with a diverse set of transferrable skills. Importantly, it will provide me with the opportunity to network with elite scientists and future employers. Thus, a PhD is undoubtedly the stepping stone to both my personal and professional advancements.

My advice for students that enjoy research is to apply for a PhD position at Imperial College London in the Faculty of Medicine. Although a PhD is extremely challenging, seeing your research making a difference in healthcare, improving people life is incredibly rewarding.