Northern Institute for Cancer Research

Staff Profile

Dr Debbie Hicks

Faculty Fellow/Senior Research Associate

Background

I am a Faculty Fellow and Senior Research Associate at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research. My areas of expertise are the molecular pathology of the paediatric brain tumour and medulloblastoma.

Qualifications

  • PhD (Molecular genetics) 2009, Newcastle University
  • BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences (molecular biology), 2003, University of Edinburgh

Previous positions

  • 2004- 2013        Researcher (to Faculty Fellow)      MRC Centre for Neuromuscular Disease at Newcastle, Intitute of Genetic Medicine, Newcastle University

Honours and Awards

  • Faculty Fellowship awarded in June 2013 by the Faculty of Medical Sciences in recognition of academic leadership potential

  • Elsevier award for best oral presentation. 18th Congress of the World Muscle Society, Asilomar, California, October 2-6, 2013

  • $550 travel fellowship awarded to attend 18th Congress of the World Muscle Society, Asilomar, California, October 2-6, 2013.

  • €500 travel fellowship awarded to attend 15th Congress of the World Muscle Society, Kumamoto, Japan, October 12-16, 2010

  • Poster selected from >200 for presentation in ‘highlights’ session. 15th Congress of the World Muscle Society, Kumamoto, Japan, October 12-16, 2010.

  • Elsevier Award for best oral presentation. 13th Congress of the World Muscle Society, Newcastle, UK, October 17-20, 2008.

  • €500 travel fellowship awarded to attend the 11th Congress of the World Muscle Society, Bruges, Belgium, October 11-14, 2006

Memberships

  • BACR
  • EACR

Google Scholar: Click here.

Research

Research Interests

Medulloblastoma is the most common malignant paediatric brain tumour and causes approximately 10% of childhood cancer deaths.  Improvements in overall survival rates have plateaued at around 70%, and current therapies cause permanently disabling late-effects in the majority of survivors; there is a clear unmet need for new therapeutic approaches.  Our groundbreaking discovery in 2005 of a favourable-risk medulloblastoma disease group with >90% survival, defined by the status of the b-catenin prognostic biomarker, has led to the design of forthcoming pan-European Phase II/III clinical trials, which will stratify therapy according to molecular disease-risk. These pioneering trials based on our work will introduce molecular stratification for the first time in paediatric brain tumours, aimed at maximisation of survival alongside minimisation of late-effects.

Despite these major advances, disease biology is heterogeneous and validated prognostic biomarkers describe <20% of medulloblastomas. Importantly, >50% of patients have clinical high-risk disease (50-60% survival) and equivalent advances have not been made in these groups.  Critically, they are ineligible for these new trials and are treated using heterogeneous protocols.  In short, their disease biology is not sufficiently well understood to support new therapeutic strategies. I work on a CRUK Programme grant which will deliver improved outcomes by enabling (i) therapeutic reduction in favourable-risk patients, (ii) treatment intensification or modification in high-risk patients, and (iii) targeted delivery of novel molecular agents, together leading to enhanced survival rates and reduced therapy-induced late-effects.

Research Role

Senior Research Associate on CRUK Programme grant 'Biomarker-driven individualisation of childhood medulloblastoma therapy'

Student Supervision

·         PhD: Lead supervisor on 4-year CRUK-funded Newcastle Cancer Centre studentship; Oct 2018

·         Erasmus traineeship: Lead supervisor, April-August 2018

·         PhD: Named co-supervisor of Golara Torabi Forsani (2012-2015) and Calum Kirk (2013-2016)

·         MRes (Medical Genetics/Cancer studies); 10 students (2011-current)

·         BSc Biomedical Sciences: 15 students (2010-current)







Publications