A Day in the Life: “Thank you to everyone contributing to the continuity of cancer research”

Zeribe Nwosu talks about how he splits every working day into two phases, and how he is inspired by researchers across the globe, “especially those in resource-limited settings”.

World Cancer Research Day

24 September is World Cancer Research Day, which raises awareness of the important and lifesaving work done by researchers. As part of this the EACR asked a variety of members to share a day in their life as a cancer researcher.

Name: Zeribe Nwosu
Nationality: Nigerian
Place of work: University of Michigan, USA
Job title: Postdoctoral Research Follow
How long have you worked there: 1 year

Zeribe Nwosu
Setting out to determine what happens in pancreatic cancer cells when they are starved of glucose or amino acids. Since cancer cells rely on nutrients, starving them to death is a possible way to achieve effective treatment.

How I start:

I start a typical day around 5.30 AM, sometimes an hour earlier or later. My first routines include reading news headlines and responding to emails that require simple answers. If I was actively working on a task before I slept, e.g. data analysis, I try to make progress on that for about an hour. Otherwise, I use that time to plan the day or respond to emails that require a detailed response or attachment. Then I prepare to go to the lab.

One day, two phases:

Ideally, I split my time at work into two: analysis and experiment ‘phases’. The analysis phase often last until midday. During this phase I perform computer-related tasks, e.g. analyse results generated from previous experiments or analyse whether certain genes are low or high in pancreatic cancer. This phase helps me to determine my next step and demands critical thinking and attention to tiny details. For example, if I put a comma at the wrong place in my script, I will receive an error message and resolving that error may take some time. So staying focused is key!

Zeribe Nwosu
Our vibrant and collaborative team of researchers focusing on how to defeat pancreatic cancer. The team name is “PANTERA”, which stands for Pancreatic Tumor Eradication Research Alliance.

In the afternoon I start the experiment phase. The tasks in this phase may include growing cancer cells in petri dishes (i.e. cell culture), measuring their response to treatments or working with the mice we use to study pancreatic cancer. This phase also demands utmost attention. For example, a wrong drug concentration can ruin a week-long experiment. Thus, it is extremely important to stay alert and avoid avoidable mistakes.

With other activities:

Well the two-phased day I described above is usually my reference point. But in reality, every day has various other exciting activities that I participate in within and outside the lab. For example, on a very busy day I might attend a lab meeting, seminar, meet my supervisors to discuss experiment plans, talk to a collaborator or attend networking activities. I also have students to mentor. To adapt, I sometimes make the analysis phase a “homework”. I also enjoy staying in the lab until late evening. Indeed, starting experiments then is often the best for me.

Once I feel it is time to go home, I leave the lab. At home dinner comes first; preferably Egusi soup, my favourite Nigerian delicacy. In the process I read news articles and watch sports highlights if any. Thereafter, I sort out other matters, e.g. letters, house chores, etc. Then I return to the computer to continue data analysis or read a scientific article. Some days I am totally kaput by evening and so must retire once struck by sleep wave.

Zeribe Nwosu
A beautiful view from my seat on the 6th Floor of the Rogel Cancer Center, University of Michigan. Often provides a nice refreshment for my eyes and mind when I am in the lab.

What inspires me:

Without an inspiration or driving force, the above routine is boring. I am driven by passion, curiosity and optimism. I am very passionate about the job, curious for answers, and optimistic that my little contribution could one day help to defeat cancer. Also, I draw inspiration from knowing that researchers across the globe, especially those in resource-limited settings, are not giving up on the quest to defeat cancer. To sustain my motivation, I approach situations in and around the lab from a positive viewpoint and think of new ways to overcome unforeseen challenges (e.g. failed experiments).

As we commemorate the World Cancer Research Day 2019, it is worthy to acknowledge that much work is being done by so many towards achieving early detection and cure for cancer. Thank you to everyone contributing to the continuity of cancer research, whether through advocacy, funding, giving informed consent or training others. I also thank all my teachers and mentors to date.

How can you get involved with World Cancer Research Day?

1. Sign the World Declaration for Cancer Research

2. On 24 September share a snapshot on social media from a day in your life as a cancer researcher: use #WorldCancerResearchDay

Click here to see more posts about a ‘Day in the Life’ of other cancer researchers.

About Zeribe’s research:

I work on pancreatic cancer, which is a very deadly disease. There is a need for effective therapies against pancreatic cancer. This cancer feed on glucose and other nutrients. Therefore, my research is focused on identifying the genes that help them to feed and grow. In addition, immune cells normally help the body to fight infection, but they often surround pancreatic tumours. So I am investigating whether certain immune cells help pancreatic cancer to feed. The goal is to find ways to block specific genes or unwanted immune cell activities in order to starve pancreatic tumours and improve patients treatment.