Tuesday, 2 November 2010

From the pop charts to the laboratory

Twenty years after topping the charts with acid house music, Cressida Bowyer has swapped guitars for microscopes and is now researching new ways to fight cancer.

It’s been a major change of careers for Cressida, who sang backing vocals with the London band KLF on hits including Justified and Ancient, which reached number one in 18 countries and the top-ten UK hit Last Train to Trancentral.
The ex-wife of KLF’s co-founder and artist Jimmy Cauty, is coming to the end of her PhD studies at the UK's University of Brighton’s School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, where she has undertaken ground-breaking research into liver cancer.

She is working on more effective ways to deliver life-saving chemotherapy in “beads” inserted directly into the liver and which carry the drugs direct to tumours. In September this year, she presented her work at the International Liver Cancer Association conference in Montreal, Canada.

Scientists have discovered that oxygen-deficient (hypoxic) cancer cells are resistant to traditional forms of chemotherapy and radiation. Cressida has developed a model of hypoxic liver cancer which mimics the problem in the laboratory and allows for experimentation to find the most effective drugs or combinations of drugs to destroy the tumours.Her research is sponsored through an Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council CASE studentship in collaboration with Biocompatibles UK Ltd.

Cressida, who lives in Hove with her son of ten and boy-and-girl twins of 17, said her work was fulfilling a dream from her youth. She said: “I always loved science at school and wanted to pursue it as a career – but I found myself being seduced by punk rock.”

She left school at 16 and a year later she met Jimmy Cauty in London. Their relationship lasted more than 20 years, 16 of them in a squat in Lambeth where the K Foundation was established to “subvert the art world”. It staged alternative art awards for the worst artists and burned £1 million in cash on a Scottish island.

KLF, also known as The Justified Ancients or Mu Mu, The Timelords, were one of the original bands of the British acid house movement during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Cressida later co-handled the vocals for Disco 2000 which released singles on the KLF Communications label.

Cressida took on organisational and design roles for KLF Communications recording studios, but the call of science was never far away. After splitting with Jimmy, Cressida and their children moved to Hove and she found herself drawn once more to science. She took A-levels and then a degree at the University of Brighton in biological sciences before starting her PhD studies four years ago.

Cressida said: “I probably would have gone on to university and to have studied science when I was younger had it not been for the lure of punk rock.

“I never envisaged being a student again at this stage of my life but I do really enjoy it and especially the work I’m doing.

“There’s no prospect of a band reunion and I certainly don’t have any ambitions to go back to that life.

“I got the T-shirt at the time and that was enough for me.”

Professor Adrian Bone, professor of cell and molecular biology at the University of Brighton, said: “Cressida has proved herself to be an extremely talented researcher and her work on liver cancer is opening up exciting new avenues for the potential treatment of a range of human cancer conditions.

“She is an example of how someone can change careers at any time of their life.”

Photograph: Andrew Weekes