Suzanne Johnson

Suzanne Johnson, BSc (Hons), MSc, PhD

Dr

Personal profile

Overview

Suzanne is a lecturer in the Division of Cancer Sciences and Division lead for Social Responsibility.  With a background in basic and translational cancer research, Suzanne is Programme Director developing a new online Masters programme in Transformative Oncology with the University of Manchester Worldwide and Unit Lead for Solid Tumours (2) for the STP Cancer Genomics course.

Memberships of committees and professional bodies

British Association for Cancer Research

European Association for Cancer Research

International Society of Extracellular Vesicles

UK Society of Extracellular Vesicles

Qualifications

BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences,

MSc Molecular Pathology & Toxicology,

PhD

Researchers into Management, Level 5

PG Certificate Higher Education

Social responsibility

As the Lead for Social Responsibility (SR) for the Division of Cancer Sciences, I have a position on the Senior Management Team where I seek to embed SR values across all our Teaching, Learning and Research activities.  The MSc Transformative Oncology Units include elements on understanding patient’s perspective, the importance of individualised communication and embracing diversity to boost understanding of underlying genetic differences as we move toward personalised medicine.

I lead dynamic DCS SR Team comprising colleagues with broad backgrounds and roles within the Division, who contribute to rich discussions around environmental sustainability, gender and health inequity, effective recruitment, eliminating bias and engaging with communities including schools to inspire the next generation. We have:

  • Established the Oglesby Cancer Research Building Green Impact Team who seek innovative ways to reduce single use plastics and improve recycling routes lead by Sam Littler
  • Produced a video and visual biographies supplied to Widening Participation schools and engaged in a Live zoom careers consultation with over 100 Year 10 students with the MCRC
  • Delivered a workshop entitled Diversifying our Division aimed at encouraging self-reflection around bias, experiences of bullying and ways to embed accountability, which will directly influence the DCS strategy
  • Developed a public engagement tool to demonstrate liquid biopsies which is now part of a national engagement tool kit (CRUK)
  • Organised patient engagement opportunities with students to inform their projects and build context and appreciation for their learning on the Cancer Biology and Radiotherapy Physics course.

I work closely with researchers within the Division of Cancer Sciences and the Cancer Domain, where we actively engage and involve the public and patients in our research through a range of activities including the Community Festival, Science Spectacular and the CRUK Relay for life.  These interactions are vital to help shape and prioritise our research and offer valuable insights and a powerful perspective from outside the lab.

Embedding Social Responsibility: The DCS SR Team seek to

  • Promote all roles within the Division in an equal and inclusive way and actively equalise exposure
  • Advocate for cultural competency training to include use of inclusive language (Teaching, Research and Professional Support staff).
  • Actively record gender/ethnicity balance in all operational tasks – promotions panels, interviews, invited speakers, funding support etc

Biography

Following a BSc (Hons) in Biomedical Sciences and MSc in Molecular Pathology and Toxicology, Suzanne achieved her PhD in Breast Cancer in Younger Women (2002) under the supervision of Profs Jacqui Shaw and Rosemary Walker at the University of Leicester. 

Suzanne’s first appointment was as Investigator Scientist at the MRC Toxicology Unit moving to the Division of Reproductive Sciences at the University of Leicester.  Investigating the molecular mechanisms by which oestradiol and the Selective Oestrogen Receptor Modulator tamoxifen exert their tissue specific effects by assessment of receptor involvement and agonist/antagonist behaviour, proliferative response and subsequent transcription of target genes.

Suzanne joined the University of Manchester in 2007 as a post-doctoral research associate in Dr John Burthem’s research group where she created a collection of IgM-secreting hetero-hybridomas derived from a range of clinical cases of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia that had defined immunoglobulin gene rearrangement. This enabled the harvest of CLL-Ig in native IgM form for further investigation including tissue microarray to identify antigen.

In 2010, Suzanne joined Prof Vaskar Saha’s research group based at the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research.  Here she developed a strong interest in the emerging field of extracellular vesicle (EV) research; characterising Leukaemic cell derived extracellular vesicles and investigating their potential role in intracellular communication within the bone marrow microenvironment and exploring how vesicle uptake might elicit phenotypic change. In 2015/16 Suzanne undertook a 50% secondment to support the Institute of Cancer Sciences Prof Sir Salvador Moncada as a project manager.  Suzanne published 2 first author papers, contributed to 5 others and was lead applicant on an MRC Proximity to Discovery Relationship Incubator Award. In 2017 Suzanne was awarded a Recognising and Rewarding Exceptional Performance Award.

Continuing her interest in the potential of EVs in cancer-normal cell communication and as potential reservoirs of biomarkers for cancer early detection, Suzanne joined Dr Martin McCabe to investigate the potential role of EVs in paediatric brain tumours, particularly medulloblastoma.  Presenting her research internationally, Suzanne secured funding from CRUK Early Detection Primer Award as lead applicant. Suzanne was promoted to Research Fellow in August 2019.

In March 2020 Suzanne was appointed as Lecturer and Programme Director for the new online UMW MSc Transformative Oncology.

Research interests

My lab-based research interests centre around communication between normal and malignant cells, and the complex interactions within the tumour microenvironment.

In recent years, both tumour and normal cells have been shown to release extracellular vesicles:  sub-cellular packages which are extremely heterogeneous in size and content.  These have emerged as important mediators of horizontal transfer facilitating intercellular communication. Their potential to provide insights into the biology and physiology of their parent cell supports their use as biomarker reservoirs with diagnostic and prognostic potential.

My research in leukaemia showed that cells produce extracellular vesicles which can be detected, characterised and quantified in the plasma from bone marrow aspirates and detected in peripheral blood. Internalisation of EVs by non-malignant cells resulted in metabolic and phenotypic changes characteristic of a pro-tumorigenic environment. The potential role of vesicles in promoting cancer metastasis and progression through the modulation of normal cells is an exciting area of research.

Paediatric medulloblastoma is a disease where malignant cells must adapt and exploit the surrounding microenvironment and my research suggests that extracellular vesicles may play a significant role.

Outside the lab, I have a passion for addressing health inequalities both locally and internationally, promoting an inclusive culture and working to embed the values and initiatives defined by the Social Responsibility Strategy.  In am particularly keen to promote the importance of community engagement and educate researchers and all involved in the project lifecycle around the essential steps of trust and relationship building required to effectively (and sustainably) engage patients and the public in research. Working alongside the Manchester Cancer Research Centre and Greater Manchester Cancer, I contribute to events and steering groups around cancer disparity, the urgent need to diversify cancer research models to better reflect the population and support the implementation of refreshed Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategies.  I am part of the PPIE Cancer Forum, a network of colleagues across the cancer organisations in Greater Manchester where we seek collaborative and innovative solutions to inform and involve patients and the public with research to raise awareness, recruit to trials and accelerate positive clinical outcomes for people with cancer.

Activities and esteem

CHAIR:

MCRC ACED Alliance (Cancer Early Detection) Health Inequalities workshop attended by 84 UK and US colleagues. December 2020. Keynote by Prof Nalin Thakker.

Engaging our Communities Session: Greater Manchester Cancer Virtual Cancer Week May 2021

International Collaborative relations:

KENCO (Kenyan Network of Cancer Organisations) to understand community engagement priorities and barriers to healthcare and cancer screening in Kenya.

Founder and Chair: Women in Cancer network.

With representatives invited to represent all roles: Clinical, Academic, Research staff and Students, the Women in Cancer network founded in 2016 to provide a supportive network to connect women working in all aspects of cancer research across the University.

I lead a team of representatives from DCS, CRUK MI and the Christie with diverse backgrounds and job roles in Cancer. We aim to integrate students, researchers and academic staff to provide a positive and welcoming alliance, supporting career decision making, celebrating achievements and highlighting strengths. Previous events:

  • “Positively Influence Your Workplace” A workshop to introduce the idea of Conscious Conduct.  October 2019. Keynote speaker Prof Collette Fagan (UoM Vice-President for Research) and workshop delivered by Cath Prescott and Dr Rachel Cowen (ED&I office).
  • “Career choices: Should I stay or should I go?” seminar and workshop in January 2019 with Keynote speaker Dr Pip Peakman (Director or Research and Strategy, MCRC).
  • Launch event “Recognition for Women in Science” in June 2016 which included 3 female Professors discussing their career paths and role models followed with an open discussion
  • “Coping with Unexpected Change” seminar and workshop in November 2017 with external speaker Lois Burton. Aimed to support those affected by the Paterson Building Fire. Excellent feedback received from 31 attendees.
  • On International Women’s Day (March 2016) we gained interest from over 70 female staff to be photographed for a project entitled:  “Great Science STEMs from Passion”. Currently developing this project to inspire young girls into Science careers.
  • Established contacts with other similar networks within UOM: Women in FBHM; Women in Engineering Science and Technology (WiSETs) and Women in Life Sciences (WiLs) to enable collaborative events and sharing of good practice. 

 

 

 

Schools Engagement: Widening participation project to engage schools with Cancer Careers workshop. Spring/Summer 2021.

BLOGS:

VOCAL: https://www.wearevocal.org/wlrs/listen-up/health-one-size-doesnt-fit-all/

MCRC: http://www.mcrc.manchester.ac.uk/Blog/post/community-engagement-now-is-the-time

SMS Athena Swan: https://sites.manchester.ac.uk/bmh-athena-swan/2020/04/16/lockdown-day-23-patiently-preparing-to-party/#comment-129

Press release: 2016.  I sought to engage with the UoM news and media relations office to prepare the press release, which significantly enhanced the impact of my research.  As a direct result, it was publicised by a further 12 new outlets resulting in an Altmetrics score of 90. http://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/leukaemia-blood-testing-has-massive-potential/

Overview

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 4 - Quality Education
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 7 - Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  • SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals

Areas of expertise

  • RC0254 Neoplasms. Tumors. Oncology (including Cancer)
  • extracellular vesicles

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Cancer
  • Manchester Cancer Research Centre
  • Healthier Futures

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