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My meet and greet with bladder-omics by Sarah Becker

09 Nov 2021

Before starting my internship at the Jack Birch Unit (JBU), I admit I had not spent a lot of time thinking about bladders beyond the regular human need, nor had I spent much time coding. However, this summer, under the supervision of Dr. Andrew Mason, and supported by York Against Cancer, I jumped into the world of bladder bioinformatics and transcriptomics, allowing us to apply big data to biological questions.

Sarah Becker

Sarah Becker – JBU intern

A major target of the JBU is to understand processes in healthy cells so we can decipher their behaviour in cancer. My role over summer was to examine two large JBU datasets, containing information on how normal human urothelial cells behave when grown under different conditions.

Urothelial cells line the bladder and urinary tract, and give rise to the majority of bladder cancers. I investigated the response of urothelial cells when grown in “hypoxia” (low levels of oxygen), as this simulates the centre of developing cancers, as well as benign conditions such as bladder obstruction. My analyses indicated how low oxygen influenced urothelial cells, highlighting changes to bladder function and metabolism.

I spent the first weeks adapting my human brain to the way in which a computer thinks and works. This can feel very abstract at times! However, with support from Andrew for connecting numbers and letters back to the biological context, I was fascinated by the insights such large datasets allowed. This point in the internship was the most rewarding for me, as linking the data and processing back to answer a physical, real-world question was incredibly satisfying!

Having gained such an immersive insight into bioinformatics and cancer genomics, I feel excited and privileged knowing that such pioneering research, supported by York Against Cancer, is conducted behind the glass doors I pass every day to and from my second-year lectures at the University of York.