RTD 2022 Bursary Award Winner – Raghda Al-Halawani
Colorectal cancer is a scourge that we as a charity are working hard to help defeat. But as a relatively small, volunteer run charity with limited resources, the question we ask ourselves is, ‘What is the most effective use of our funds to make a meaningful impact on colorectal cancer ? ’
The answer that arose from this simple question was the idea of identifying and funding promising early stage research from bright young minds, working on pioneering cancer research. We narrowed the criteria to post-graduate researchers based in the UK, whose ideas showed real promise in furthering the understanding and early detection of colorectal cancer. Thus the idea of the Red Trouser Day Bursary was born.
Earlier this year we sent out our first call for applicants, and we were surprised by the quality of proposals received. After a thorough vetting of the research topics, and talking to the applicants’ supervisors/professors, we narrowed the list of candidates down to those whose research we felt matched our objectives.
After much discussion the Red Trouser Day trustees unanimously agreed that the bursary should be awarded to an exceptional and deserving postgraduate student, Raghda Al-Halawani, who is studying at the renowned Research Centre for Biomedical Engineering (RCBE), City, University of London.
The Research Centre for Biomedical Engineering
A few weeks ago two of the trustees were invited to meet Raghda and her supervisor Professor Panicos Kyriacou, to learn more about the work carried out by the department, and to find out more about her research. What we found out was both fascinating and really exciting …
Raghda’s university, the Research Centre for Biomedical Engineering, part of City, University of London, is located in the heart of London, a stones throw from Farringdon and Old Street. The university building is modern and is filled by the vibrant buzz of the students.
Professor Panicos Kyriacou met us at the entrance and showed us around the research facilities hidden deep in the basement of the building. Behind the closed doors to the research facility we visited two rooms; the first was full of high tech computers and the second was the research laboratory study room. Working away at one of the desks was Raghda. It was the first time we’d met her in person and she was a delight to talk to.
Professor Panicos Kyriacou and Raghda kindly treated us to a guided tour of their labs. We saw first-hand, the pioneering research for which the lab has gained a world-wide reputation.
The Research Centre specialises in photoplethysmography, also known as PPG – it is essentially the use of light to measure changes in blood volume. We were shown a prototype device that is a practical application of their research (see photo). It is a non-invasive device that shines light to allow surgeons to determine if the colorectal surgery has worked as intended. This is a feat that previously would have been riskier and potentially endanger the integrity of post-operative healing.
Raghda’s postgraduate research project application is: ‘ Monte Carlo characterisation of colon tissue towards an early detection of colorectal cancer ‘
Her work focuses on how skin pigmentation affects the accuracy of measurements obtained from pulse oximeters (which is a device used to measure oxygen in the blood) through Monte Carlo simulations.
To put this in layman’s terms, Raghda explained that by shining light of various optical wavelengths into cancerous cells, and comparing it to healthy cells a difference can be seen. Her work uses both lab measurements, as well as scouring the available scientific literature, to obtain data. This generates graphs that show the optical profile of the health of cells (see photo). The ‘Monte Carlo’ technique takes into account the randomness of human cells (since human tissue is highly scattering).
The ultimate aim of the research is to develop a non-invasive optical sensor for early colorectal cancer diagnosis. This device would be used to complement current colonoscope technology; any new tools that can help early detection of cancerous cells has to be an exciting development for our community.
Note: As an organisation it goes without question that the Red Trouser Day recommends you should always have a colonoscopy if you are offered it!
Talking to Raghda it was clear that she is a highly capable, articulate and knowledgeable researcher, who really wants to make a difference.
From a personal perspective she told me that the bursary grant will have a profound impact on her ability to focus on her research; prior to the grant she had to hold down two different jobs at the weekend just to make ends meet. As you can imagine this is extremely tiring; but now she will be able to spend more time on her passion, which is developing pioneering research in the war against cancer.
“ It is a pleasure to be a part of the RTD family. This grant will help me divert all my focus and dedication to life-changing research in colorectal cancer. ”
I speak on behalf of the entire board of Trustees in wishing Raghda the best of luck with her current research and for her future career, and we are honoured that we are able to help such a dedicated research student on her academic journey.
We would also like to thank our hard-working voluteers for their work throughout the years raising funds. If you would like to help us fund breakthrough cancer research please visit https://redtrouserday.com to find out about our activities and how you can participate.
Trustee, Red Trouser Day Charity