Dr Sylwia Ammoun of Plymouth University is leading research to help children with the devastating rare condition Neurofibromatosis Type 2. Here, she shares the professional and personal reasons behind her focus on brain tumour research – and explains why a grant of more than £65,000 from Action has made ‘all the difference’ to her work.
What inspired you to investigate this particular area?
Brain tumours are common: on a daily basis we hear on the news or among people around us about new cases. Unfortunately, despite decades of intensive worldwide research, there is still no cure for many brain tumours. They are very difficult to cure due to their location in a very sensitive part of our body and due to multiple mutations causing the disease.
That’s why I have dedicated my work to finding better treatment for patients suffering brain tumours. Currently I am working on a disease called Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2). NF2 patients suffer from multiple tumours of the nervous system. The disease begins in childhood and early adolescence and the most affected patients may risk life-threatening complications and shortened life. There is no fully effective treatment for this devastating disease.
What does Action funding for this study mean to you?
This grant makes all the difference, allowing me to continue the research which I believe has great potential for developing new effective treatment for NF2 patients and also patients suffering other types of brain tumours.
What does a typical day look like for you … or is every day different?
Although the research has to be very controlled and organised, we have to be very flexible as well. Experiments may not always be successful due to various reasons such as cells not responding to the treatment, prolonged waiting for tissue samples or equipment failure, so this is not a nine-to-five job. We have to come on weekends and holidays to look after cells in culture and, on many occasions, repeat experiments.
Can you tell us a bit about your team?
There are six people in my team, all working on different aspects of tumour development and different approaches to find new therapies. I am also collaborating with other scientists and their groups which adds tremendously to the projects.
Who’s your research hero, and why?
My research hero is Marie Sklodowska-Curie. I admire her commitment to science, her brilliance and tenacity. She was my role model all my life and my inspiration. I quoted her in my PhD thesis:
“I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale. We should not allow it to be believed that all scientific progress can be reduced to mechanisms, machines, gearings, even though such machinery has its own beauty.”
As a charity, Action began in 1952 with our founder’s quest to find a cure for polio. What led you to a career in medical research?
When I was 11 years old one of my stepbrother’s cousins died of leukaemia and when I was 14 I lost a friend to lung cancer. Both were in their early teenage years. I found science the only way to find a cure for cancer.
Action’s loyal and lovable mascot Paddington Bear™ is very fond of marmalade sandwiches. What’s your favourite snack?
Tell us something that will surprise us!
I have danced flamenco for over 10 years, performing on stage back home in Sweden and in Plymouth. I have also a purple belt in karate and train in boxing and the combat sport Muay Thai.
- 28 February is Rare Disease Day and Action is proud to support this important day - if you would like to support our 2017 appeal, find out more here.
- You can find out more about Dr Ammoun’s two year study here.
- Action is funding a number of studies to help children like Joey and Skye affected by different types of brain tumour