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Rewriting the Rulebook

Did you always want to be a molecular biologist?

I wanted to be a doctor when I was young, and I went to medical school when I was 16. I enjoyed the holistic view of science I received there – physics, chemistry, a bit of mathematics and statistics, as well as anatomy and physiology – and I certainly learned a lot. But working in a hospital essentially involves applying the rules you have learned. Though that is rewarding, I was more fascinated by the prospect of discovering new rules. We’ve known since the ancient Greeks that regardless of how much knowledge you have, there’s always an ocean of the unknown. So I decided to put down the textbook and turn to the microscope.

What did you work on initially?

I started off in haematology in the 1970s, but switched to immunology – my thesis was on human T cell cloning. I then worked on sequencing human T cell receptors, which was new for the molecular biology field. At the same time, I was also working on tumor infiltrating lymphocytes – trying to see what kinds of T cells there were and why there are so many T cells in some human tumors. There were a lot of parallels with an autoimmune disease, which was a good sign if you’re interested in cancer immunotherapy. We didn’t know at that time why these T cells were not doing their jobs and killing the tumors. It’s been fascinating to watch the gaps being filled in over the decades leading to the development of CAR T cell therapy and other immuno-oncology treatments we see today.

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About the Author

James Strachan

Over the course of my Biomedical Sciences degree it dawned on me that my goal of becoming a scientist didn’t quite mesh with my lack of affinity for lab work. Thinking on my decision to pursue biology rather than English at age 15 – despite an aptitude for the latter – I realized that science writing was a way to combine what I loved with what I was good at.

From there I set out to gather as much freelancing experience as I could, spending 2 years developing scientific content for International Innovation, before completing an MSc in Science Communication. After gaining invaluable experience in supporting the communications efforts of CERN and IN-PART, I joined Texere – where I am focused on producing consistently engaging, cutting-edge and innovative content for our specialist audiences around the world.

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