Profiling the GDST’s Alumna of the Year 2018

Profiling the GDST’s Alumna of the Year 2018

Dr Nirupa Murugaesu is at the forefront of an innovative and groundbreaking project to sequence the DNA codes of patients with cancer and rare diseases and to better understand those conditions and transform the way patients are cared for.

Nirupa is the Clinical Lead for Molecular Oncology of the 100,000 Genomes Project – announced by former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2012 as part of the Olympic legacy, and the largest national sequencing project of its kind in the world.

The project involves sequencing the DNA codes of cancer patients and analysing the genome of a tumour to inform doctors and clinicians about the behaviour of that tumour and how a patient could be treated. It allows treatment to be tailored to the individual based on their genetics.


Nirupa explains: “Many cancers are crudely labelled by where in the body they occur. By better understanding the genomic make-up of cancers, we can better select those patients that might benefit from a particular type of treatment. It may also give us a better understanding of whether the tumour is likely to behave in a more or less aggressive manner.”

“The development of the genomics industry in the last ten years has been groundbreaking.”


The first human genome was sequenced in 2000 through the Human Genome Project. It cost $3 billion and took more than ten years to sequence one genome. That work can now be done in one day, with results being interpreted and returned to hospitals within a week.

The 100,000 Genomes Project is developing the field even further. The project’s aim was initially to sequence 100,000 genomes from NHS patients. Now that this has been achieved, the focus has moved toward providing the infrastructure for a Genomic Medicine Service – to be in place this year. The introduction of the medicine service aims to provide equity in cancer genomic testing, and the adoption of a standardised approach for cancer patients across the NHS.


“Another key aspect of the project,” Nirupa says, “was the implementation of a genomic research platform to allow translation into the clinical setting and the development of personalised medicine for cancer patients throughout the NHS.”


A former pupil at Notting Hill & Ealing High School, Nirupa’s education centred on maths and science, setting her on a path towards medicine. She studied at University College London (UCL) before becoming a junior doctor and pursuing a career in oncology.

Nirupa’s early experience in science research sparked her interest in how research could complement and translate into the clinical setting of a hospital.

Later, she moved into the field of genomics as she completed her PhD and post-doctoral training and gained further experience in cancer genomics.

Genomics at that stage was rapidly advancing — thanks to the technology – and Nirupa entered the field at a key moment.


“It was luck, I was at the right place at the right time, which provided me with this significant opportunity and has opened up other avenues and new areas of development,” she says.