Categories: Sanger Life14 December 20226 min read

The Sanger Prize: Taking life in a different direction

Meet the next generation of genomic scientists who are benefiting from our founder's generosity

COVID-19 Challenge Trial

Jacqueline Boccacino was awarded the Sanger Prize in 2021, and joined the Cellular Genetics Programme, working with Dr Sarah Teichmann.

During her three-month placement, she analysed single-cell data from COVID-19 Challenge Trials. These trials exposed healthy volunteers to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and nasal and blood samples were collected from participants before, during and after infection. Single-cell data were generated from the nasal and blood cells, so researchers could study the cell types involved in the immune response, their states and their gene activation. Jacqueline analysed the data to uncover if any specific immune-cell receptor was involved in the body’s response to infection.

“I had experience with single-cell gene expression data, but not with T-cell receptor data. So during that time, I managed to learn a whole new universe. Everybody in the lab was super cool and super receptive,” says Jacqueline.

jacqueline_in_teichmann_group_1440

Jaqueline (bottom row, 4th from the left) in the Teichmann research team at the Sanger Institute

Cancer

“While I was here during the prize placement I kept an eye on job vacancies, and when the position of bioinformatician was advertised in David Adam’s group, I thought it would be perfect,” she says.

Jacqueline was successful, and says landing the role was a dream come true, as she wants to pursue a career in cancer genomics. She is now working on the DERMATLAS project, which aims to create a genomic atlas of skin tumours.

“I think it's a very innovative project because it aims to profile the genomes and transcriptomes of dozens of different skin tumour types that have never undergone genome sequencing before, including extremely rare ones. I really believe it will revolutionise the way we think about skin tumours.”

Her interest in computational biology began during her undergraduate degree at the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil.

“I think I was drawn to it because of the power that bioinformatics has. There are a lot of things that just cannot be addressed, or it would be much more difficult to address, experimentally. I think that bioinformatics has come to facilitate things, and allows you to have different perspectives on biological questions.”

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Closing date: Friday 6 January 2023 at 5pm UK time

The Sanger Prize

“The prize has meant I can learn a broad range of things,” says Jacqueline. “It has brought me face to face with a whole bunch of opportunities. In my native language of Portuguese, we have an idiom - divisor de águas - that says something is a situation that can split, like a river. I think of winning the prize like that – my life has taken a different direction.”

Jacqueline’s advice for anyone thinking of applying is to not be afraid. “You always get that feeling that, ‘Oh, I'm not good enough.’ But it's not right. I would encourage everybody to apply, and to just be yourself.”

It was Jacqueline’s supervisor at the University of Sao Paulo who advised her to apply, and who has inspired her. “In Brazil, we usually say that you already have a ‘no’, but you need to go after the ‘yes’. So you always need to try things out, no matter what the outcome will be, you try. My supervisor is very encouraging of all her students into that way of being.”

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