15 December 2021
By Elaine Murphy
Amongst those recognised by the Irish Research Council at their recent prestigious Irish Researcher of the Year Awards was MTU alumnus, and former researcher and lecturer, Dr Susan Bullman. Susan is an Assistant Professor, Human Biology Division, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle. Susan was one of only two highly commended by the expert panel under the Early Career Researcher of the Year Award.
Susan’s research studies the link between microbes and cancer. She spearheads research on a species of bacteria that is implicated in colorectal cancer. Her studies show that when colon cancer cells spread to the liver, the dangerous bacteria travel there as well, embedding with those rogue cancer cells as the disease enters its most lethal phase. Her research aims to unlock the molecular mechanisms behind cancer-promoting bacteria and identify targets for risk assessment, early detection, prevention, and targeted treatment.
Susan says “over the course of my time as a student and a trainee in academia: graduate, postgraduate and postdoctoral, I have been very fortunate to encounter numerous brilliant, generous, and supportive, scientific mentors in both Ireland and the USA. At a very early time in my research path, it was the patience and knowledge of lectures in Biomedical Sciences at MTU (then CIT) and subsequently my PhD advisors that had the most impact on me as a junior scientist. My time there provided me with the skills, tools and self-confidence needed to embark on my own independent scientific journey. Now as an Assistant Professor myself, training and mentoring the next generation of scientists, I look back fondly on my time in Cork with my mentors and hope that I can provide a similar foundation to my trainees.
The IRC Researcher of the Year Awards recognise the very best of the Council’s funded researchers who are making highly significant and valuable contributions to knowledge, society, culture, or innovation. The winners were selected by an independent expert panel, chaired by Luke Drury, Professor Emeritus of Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS). The award for Early Career Researcher of the Year is given to a current or former IRC awardee who is at an early stage in their career. They must be currently working in research in an academic institution and have demonstrated an exceptional level of achievement in their field at this stage in their career.
Susan’s research efforts to date have resulted in 35 peer reviewed original research manuscripts, including articles in the journals Cell, Science, Nature, Nature Genetics, Cancer Cell, Gut, Immunity and JAMA Oncology amongst other highly respected journals. In recognition of her scientific achievements, Susan was named “2018 STAT Wunderkind”, which recognises the next generation of scientists across North America that will be leaders in their field (https://www.statnews.com/wunderkinds-2018/).
Throughout her career in research, she has been awarded numerous grants including a highly competitive K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), National Institute of Health (NIH), USA which helped her establish her own laboratory – the Bullman Lab at Fred Hutch.
In addition to sitting on the Faculty Advisory Board for Genomics, Experimental Histopathology and Data Sciences, Susan serves on many external advisory boards, notably for MD Anderson’s Cancer Centre, Microbiome Research Initiative (PRIME TR) and the Scientific Advisory Board for the Cancer Program at BiomX. She also holds an Affiliate Assistant Professorship at the Department of Laboratory Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle. https://www.fredhutch.org/en/faculty-lab-directory/bullman-susan.html)