High School of Dundee pupil reaches finals for cancer research

A cancer research project carried out at the University of Dundee by a local school pupil has reached the final of a prestigious competition.

Maria Pisliakova, an S6 pupil at the High School of Dundee, has been selected to present her findings at the Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Competition in March.

The 17-year-old, who conducted her research in the lab of Professor Victoria Cowling in the School of Life Sciences at the University, has discovered new possibilities of preventing some cancers by inhibiting the ‘mRNA capping’ of the c-Myc, an oncogene present in 50 per cent of all cancer cases in either a mutated or over-expressed form.

Maria’s research, carried out over five weeks last summer through a Nuffield Research Placement, suggests that by stopping the production of the c-Myc protein in a cell (the ‘mRNA capping’ process), it could be possible to prevent the generation of c-Myc.

Maria said, “When I got the email to let me know that I’d made it to the final I was really thrilled. I hadn’t anticipated it at all as the research was quite complex and therefore quite challenging to explain. I know it’s a prestigious event so it’s a great honour to have been invited to share my research.

“I thought I was working on something that other people had done already. But when I was told that the experiments hadn’t been done by anyone else, and that I was looking at novel research results it was an amazing feeling.

“My experience in the labs, working on the research has convinced me that I want to go into Medical Research when I leave school, to have the chance to be involved in this kind of work which can have such beneficial


Described by the pharmaceutical industry as a “target of unmet need”, c-Myc controls 10 per cent of our genome, including genes which drive cell growth and division, and has to date been resistant to many traditional therapeutic approaches.

Professor Cowling said, “Maria made a brilliant contribution to the lab and her research is on a par with the best PhD students – quite an achievement for a school pupil who hasn’t yet done an undergraduate degree. 

“Her results have contributed to our knowledge of how the capping enzyme regulates c-Myc oncogene. Her data suggests that by targeting the capping enzyme we could suppress c-Myc in cancers, which has not been pursued previously.  As such this research is a valuable contribution to our collaborative work with the Drug Discovery Unit here at the University.

“Maria handled the trials of research science brilliantly, she was always smiling and a pleasure to work with. I wish her all the best in her competition and hope someday we can continue our research together.”

The Big Bang UK Young Scientists & Engineers Competition will take place from 15th – 18th March at Birmingham NEC. 

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