PhD Candidate Profile: Gabriele De Rubis

5 January 2021
GDR Headshot

What is your research about?

My research focuses on Multiple Myeloma (MM), a haematological malignancy affecting plasma cells characterized by the presence of multiple tumour infiltrates in the bone marrow. MM is a treatable but incurable disease with highly variable survival and treatment response consisting in numerous cycles of remission and relapse which inevitably result in treatment failure. This is largely attributed to the emergence of multidrug resistance (MDR) in response to chemotherapy.

The current gold standard tests to monitor MM response status are bone marrow (BM) biopsies and the measurement of blood and urine levels of M-protein (the immunoglobulin aberrantly produced by malignant cells). Both tests are limited because they are only informative of relapse when it is already clinically manifest and, in the case of BM biopsies, they are very invasive procedures that cannot be performed longitudinally and that do not capture the clonal heterogeneity of the multisite tumour infiltrates.

Therefore, there is an unmet clinical need for a non-invasive test – a “liquid biopsy” – allowing to routinely assess patients’ treatment response, gauging the point at which MDR starts to emerge.

My research consists in the development and standardization of such a test, which is based on the detection and phenotyping of cancer-derived circulating extracellular vesicles (EVs) using flow cytometry. This work stems from two earlier studies performed by our research group which identified specific “signatures” of proteins present in circulating EVs that correlated with patients’ treatment response status and, in some cases, were able to detect unresponsive patients before the clinical onset of relapse.

What is the translational application of your research?

This blood test has the potential as a tool to support clinicians in the timely decisions to switch therapeutic regimen before patients become totally treatment unresponsive. This will result in improved patient survival and improved patients’ quality of life, by avoiding the unnecessary exposure of patients to cytotoxic drugs that are not effective anymore. At the same time, a more appropriate selection of the treatment regimen could lead to a reduction of the associated healthcare costs.

How would the TCRN PhD top-up Scholarship help you succeed?

 The TCRN PhD top-up Scholarship will help me cope with the financial stress to which all full-time PhD students are subjected, allowing me to dedicate more time to my research. Furthermore, being a TCRN member provides me with important networking opportunities and with the chance to learn from cancer experts and to maximize the translational impact of my research. I particularly appreciate the wise advice we receive from the Consumer Advisory Panel, which is an invaluable help in understanding how cancer affects the life of patients and carers. This provides me with immense motivation to succeed in cancer research.