2020: Alba Rodriguez Meira
Alba Rodriguez-Meira completed her DPhil under the supervision of Professors Adam Mead and Sten Eirik Jacobsen at the Molecular Haematology Unit (WIMM), where she characterized the genetic and molecular heterogeneity of leukemic stem cells, which give rise to blood cancer. Alba pioneered the development of a new single-cell sequencing method that correlates mutations, cell surface proteomics and whole transcriptome analysis from the same cell (TARGET-seq). This uniquely allowed her to resolve the molecular signatures of genetically-distinct leukaemic stem cells in patients with myelofibrosis. Ultimately, this led to the identification of therapeutic vulnerabilities specifically affecting mutant cells, which could help develop better therapeutic strategies for patients with blood cancer. The technique has been widely adopted in many laboratories in the world, and has resulted in many collaborations both at the MRC WIMM and internationally. In addition to her academic work, Alba is also an active member of Spanish Researchers in the UK, where she organizes scientific and outreach events, and a member of the International Society of Experimental Hematology Publications Committee.
Alba started her scientific journey at the University of Salamanca, Spain, where she trained in Biotechnology and Molecular Biology. From the very first time she attended one of the Biomedicine lectures, she became totally fascinated by how genetic and epigenetic errors make cells go awry and eventually lead to cancer.
Following her passion, she moved to Imperial College London to undertake an MRes in Cancer Biology. As part of her Master placement in the laboratory of Prof. Luca Magnani, she uncovered a mechanistic link between epigenetic reprogramming and the acquisition of invasive properties driving breast cancer metastasis (Perone, Farrugia, Rodriguez-Meira et al, Nature Communications). This work identified a targetable pathway to potentially prevent metastatic dissemination in patients.
She was then awarded a prestigious CRUK DPhil Prize Scholarship to join Professors Adam Mead and Professors Sten Eirik Jacobsen Laboratories at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine. During the first two years of her DPhil, she developed a new single-cell sequencing technology to analyse mutations and whole transcriptomes from the same single cell (TARGET-seq). This allowed her to identify the molecular changes driving genetic clonal evolution in patients with myelofibrosis (Rodriguez-Meira et al, Molecular Cell), a bone marrow malignancy. She then leveraged this technology to identify new mutant-specific biomarkers, which could serve as potential immunotherapy target (Psaila, Wang et al, Molecular Cell). This served as a proof-of-concept study to demonstrate how single-cell technologies can lead to new therapeutic approaches for cancer patients.
The TARGET-seq technology had a significant impact in the field and led to many national and international collaborations (i.e. Vyas, Mendez-Ferrer groups). The growing interest of the technology prompted the development of higher-throughput implementations (Rodriguez-Meira et al, STAR Protocols) and industrial collaborations. She is also co-inventor in two patents related to TARGET-seq.
She is now taking this further as a postdoctoral researcher in the Mead and Thongjuea Labs, trying to understand the effect of very poor prognosis TP53 mutations at different stages of leukaemic evolution.
In addition to these academic achievements, she is also an active member of Spanish Researchers in the UK, where she organizes outreach activities and scientific symposiums (First Cancer Research Networking Event and 8th International SRUK Symposium) and promotes collaborative links between UK-based and Spanish researchers.