Joshua Hughes

Student spotlight details

Joshua is a scientist who wanted to broaden his knowledge of drug discovery and development, particularly relating to cell and gene therapy. 

‘I decided to apply for the MSc in Experimental and Translational Therapeutics to broaden my knowledge of drug discovery and development, particularly in relation to the new therapeutic modalities (eg cell and gene therapy) which we have seen an explosion of in recent years. We are entering a new age of medical innovation and, as a young scientist in the industry, I wanted to strengthen my understanding of the enabling scientific and technological advances, as well as how clinical trial and regulatory frameworks are shifting to accommodate this. The course stood out to me with its focus on these emerging areas and themes (eg modules in personalised therapy and biological therapeutics), in addition to fundamental drug development principles.

'The University of Oxford is widely recognised as being on the forefront of cutting-edge therapeutic and clinical research, and the course is able to draw from this rich body of experience with tuition from world-class academics and researchers in these fields. To add to this, each module features a number of guest lectures given by industry and medical professionals, which is highly beneficial in understanding how such advances are being translated into practice.

'The opportunity to undertake a wet lab research project was a benefit which cannot be overstated. I was honoured to be able to join the Chakraverty Group, which specialises in Haematopoietic Transplantation and Immunotherapy, during the final year of my MSc. This ideal placement allowed me to undertake and gain exposure to novel academic research, whilst gaining practical experience with primary T-cell culture, differentiation and characterisation by high-dimensional flow cytometry – highly relevant skills within the cell and gene therapy field (given the emergence of CAR- and TCR- modified T-cell therapies). I also gained experience in R (programming language), which I used to classify T-cell subsets based on unsupervised clustering algorithms.

'This work, which I carried out within the Molecular Haematology Unit of the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, formed the basis for my dissertation: “Development of a CD4+ T Follicular Helper Cell Manufacturing Platform for Adoptive Cell Therapy”, for which I was awarded a ‘Distinction’.

'Finally, the environment of the Weatherall Institute was highly stimulating, with weekly seminars and guest lectures, as well as a journal club hosted by the Chakraverty Group. This was a constant source of inspiration, and allowed me to gain exposure to a wide range of research areas, spanning domains such as immunology, genome editing and stem cell biology.

'To succeed, I would advise anyone considering taking this course to start thinking about dissertation ideas early, and if possible, undertake a wet lab project with University of Oxford’s supervision. Be proactive in making contact with academics within your area of interest to assess potential opportunities, and plan well to make the most of your time.

'If you can, take advantage of the other diverse benefits of being a University of Oxford student, such as participating in societies (eg Oxford Biotechnology Society, Oxford Personalised Medicine Society, The Oxford Union) and attend networking events.

'The course allowed me to undertake my studies in parallel with my employment at Oxford Biomedica. I appreciated the flexibility offered by the University and the course team with respect to the timing and order of modules studied.

'The course greatly strengthened my grounding in the principles of therapeutic discovery and development, and has equipped me to understand the stream of innovations occurring in this space. As an industry scientist, it was highly valuable in helping me place my day-to-day work into a wider context.'

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