By Dr Giovana Carrasco

Dr Giovana Carrasco

My name is Dr Giovana Carrasco and I am a research fellow working at the Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre, University of Edinburgh. I am investigating how loss of Kindlin-1, a protein involved in how cells stick to each other (cell adhesion), affects the development of a type of skin cancer called cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma.


Which aspect of EB are you most interested in?

Inheriting broken genes for Kindlin-1 from both parents means production of Kindlin-1 protein is reduced or not possible at all and people grow up without any of this important protein in their bodies. This causes a genetic condition called Kindler EB (KEB)My project is based on the knowledge that there is an increased likelihood of KEB patients, developing an aggressive type of skin cancer called cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. This is in addition to the KEB symptoms of blistering and skin that sunburns easily.


What difference will your work make to people living with EB?

We expect that our research will allow us to have a better understanding of the risks that KEB patients face for developing other diseases such as cancer. Our work can potentially explain how loss of Kindlin-1 makes skin cancer more likely to start, grow and spread. This knowledge would help researchers in the future to develop potential treatments for KEB patients with this type of skin cancer. Interestingly, the increased likelihood of tumour development enhanced by Kindlin-1 loss is only observed in the skin, its loss has the opposite effect in other organs. So, nothing is simple and this protein, and its involvement in KEB cancer, is a very interesting area of research.


Who/what inspired you to work on EB?

My interest started by having a relative with this type of skin cancer which unfortunately was only caught at the advanced stages when it tends to have a negative outcome. The project in Prof Brunton’s lab interested me not only because loss of Kindlin-1 causes the genetic skin disorder, KEB, but because it also seems to play an important role in the progression of this type of skin cancer. Our studies can lead us to have a better understanding of what causes this aggressive type of cancer and to potentially find ways to fight EB skin cancer with new or existing therapies.


What does the funding from DEBRA mean to you?

We are incredibly grateful to DEBRA for the support provided to work on our research. Thanks to them, we’ve been able to move our project forward and find out new information that we are preparing to publish for other scientists to advance our shared understanding. Even though our subject of interest seems highly specific, understanding this cancer is relevant to a wide field of issues that we would like to continue exploring.

 Dr Giovana Carrasco in the lab

What does a day in your life as an EB researcher look like?

Usually, every day is different. We tend to work in the lab for our experiments and do some reading or writing in a communal office. It can get a bit hectic sometimes, especially because I enjoy juggling several experiments at the same time as it makes me feel efficient when I have lots of results at the end of the day. I tend to have a to-do list with my daily tasks, involving the preparation of ingredients for experiments, doing calculations and getting equipment ready for sample collection, among others. Some experiments take a couple of days to be performed, mostly because they require us to set up cell cultures and leave them to grow and respond to our treatments. We must collect samples and then generate the data which we later analyse and prepare to present for discussion with our principal investigators. The workload varies each day but a little progress everyday takes us closer to the wider picture of our main aims.


Who’s on your team and what do they do to support your EB research?

I am part of a large lab group, consisting of people with diverse backgrounds working on various types of cancers. We are led by our principal investigators, Prof Margaret Frame and Prof Val Brunton, who are great mentors and constantly motivate us in our research. The lab members are an amazing group of people, and we all collaborate and support each other. I feel truly fortunate to be part of such a professional lab group and have an amazing work environment.


How do you relax when you’re not working on EB?

In my spare time, I enjoy spending time outdoors with my dog, watching films and reading and I am aiming to improve my abilities in acrylic painting, fencing and playing the piano. I am always keen on learning new things and trying new activities.