Chinese New Year in Ireland

Hi, this is Lin, it’s my second year living in Dublin and the second Chinese New Year I celebrated here. I love Dublin not only because it is the country I’ve spent more time in than any other country besides China but also because it can support Chinese traditional culture to the greatest extent.

Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) is China’s biggest extravaganza. In 2023 we celebrated it on 22nd February. According to the Chinese calendar, the world enters the Year of the Rabbit. I felt the Chinese New Year everywhere in Dublin.

Chinese New Year’s Eve is an important night for Chinese families, like Christmas Eve for the Irish. I didn’t go back to China, but I was with my Chinese friends in Dublin and celebrated together on that day. We put up spring couples and paper cutouts in our apartment, ordered some traditional Chinese food, and made some dumplings. We stayed home, stayed up late, and said goodbye to the old year. We did every vital ritual as we did at home.

In town, people also celebrated the Chinese New Year. Most notably, Good World Chinese Restaurant, my favourite Chinese restaurant in Dublin, has always contributed greatly to promoting Chinese culture. They received the Chinese Intangible Culture Heritage title from UNESCO for having one of the most traditionally prepared dim sums. On the day of Chinese New Year, they had the lion dance and worshipped the Gods of wealth. They think these vital rituals can bring people luck and wealth.

https://www.goodworld.ie/

My Irish friends said “Happy Chinese New Year” to me with warmth and friendliness on Chinese New Year. They respect not only Chinese New Year but also any Chinese culture. Their kindness makes me feel at home.

I love my friends, and I love everything in Dublin!

Written by Lin Ma (PhD student)

Goodbye, 2022! Hello, 2023!

Looking back at my and my team’s journey in 2022, I see many junctions, traffic lights, stops and slides. Some of them raised us up, and others disappointed. We had to make decisions at the junctions and to reflect and revise the actions at the traffic lights and stops. Being patient is a gold skill. The good mix of everything kept us awake.

There were surprises on the way! Winning a research grant is not only hard work and sleepless nights, but it is also luck. Luck. Hard Luck. The funding pot is extremely small for too many high-scored innovative proposals.

My first 2022 win scored 99/100 and gave me an exciting opportunity to collaborate meaningfully with Prof Helen McCarthy, QUB. This was the highest ever score for my multiple applications over the years. So, this outcome also charged my sole and moulded my determination to do well that year.

However, my grant luck parked there until the end of 2022. Most applications missed the funding threshold by the 0.1 – 0.5 mark. So, another application complementary to the winning one landed on the reserve list… Needless to say, how I or any other researcher, feels seeing it.

A few weeks before Christmas, a positive emotional tsunami happened. I opened an email stating that the reserved proposal had received funding. Almost 10 months and 10 applications between two successful ones. Is not it hard luck?

However, it is not the number of grants received that matters; it is who is around you. My team has curiosity-driven students with big hearts who made this journey fascinating and special.

Goodbye, 2022!!!

So, how has 2023 started for me? Another surprise waited for me in the sealed envelope from the RCSI Vice Chancellor and CEO, Prof Kelly, after my return from holidays. I was nominated for the Positive Leader Award 2022 by my anonymous peers. This Nomination emotionally touched me and mattered more than if I had won this award. I am grateful to the people I work with.

Thank you to everyone who shared the 2022 journey with me!

Goodbye 2022, and Hello 2023!

#GoForGoldCycle2022 covered 400 km and raised €1,500!

In September, we set ourselves the “#GoForGoldCycle2022” challenge for Childhood Cancer Awareness.

We started #GoForGoldCycle2022 at 9 am and finished at 7 pm on September 21, 2022. Each bike peddled 200km, totalling 400 km on a day.

We were delighted to see the RCSI main building glowing Gold to celebrate Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and acknowledge that every child with cancer, their heartbroken but resilient parents, siblings and family members, their friends, and all doctors, nurses and carers who go far and beyond to offer the best available treatment and support, all scientists, patient advocates and charities who work hard to improve current treatment protocols, find new drugs and request changes in the way childhood cancer are dealt with.

We closed the GoFundMe in October and counted the charity buckets. We are delighted to announce we raised a grand total of €1500! We are over the moon with this sum. 

Our three chosen charities: Children’s Health Foundation Crumlin (formerly CMRF), the Conor Foley Neuroblastoma Cancer Research Foundation, and Neuroblastoma UK, each received ~ €500. 

We’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who donated and contributed their cycling skills. It will make a huge difference for these charities, especially this year, paving the way to better treatment options for children with cancer.

#GoForGoldCycle2022

We are the Cancer Bioengineering Group, and September is a very special month for us as it is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Childhood cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death in children after accidents. Our group researches childhood cancer neuroblastoma, a cancer of immature nerve cells. Neuroblastoma is responsible for approximately 15% of all childhood cancer deaths. Despite intensive multimodal treatment, as many as 1 in 5 children with the aggressive disease do not respond, and up to 50% of children that do respond experience disease recurrence with many metastatic tumours resistant to many drugs and more aggressive tumour behaviour that all too frequently results in death.

This is what we want to change! We believe that every child deserves a future, and our team of postgraduate researchers led by Dr Olga Piskareva is dedicated to strengthening our knowledge of this disease and identifying new potential ways to tackle it, as well as taking part in fundraising activities so our group and others can continue with this research.  

On Wednesday, the 21st of September, RCSI 123 SSG will #GoGold in support of this cause. Please come by to see the RCSI building lit up and share your pictures on social media with the hashtag #ChildhoodCancerAwarenessMonth to raise awareness.

How are you, PI?

Yeah, our (my) blogging is sporadic. The pattern is well recognisable – more posts with success stories or accomplishments or about the key activities. It is easy to share :). Please excuse us (me) when we are off the radar, but we remember our supporters and readers. We are back on track to celebrate Childhood Cancer Awareness Month this September.

So, how did my summer go? Well, nothing to complain about. I had time to go back to the labs, pick up on the outstanding task, and take on the white coat. Indeed, it comes with some assurance as well as troubleshooting. Some days were better than others. Some experiments worked, and another was inconsistent or inconclusive.

A fancy photo, but the routine cell culture itself can be very boring.

Where did I pick it up? This research journey is one year old already. 🙂 This project is focused on validation our 3D neuroblastoma model to test novel therapeutics. We set an experiment that required different expertise and contribution from every team member. In an ideal world, it was supposed to finish in 6 months. But the reality doesn’t stop to shake you. Various components have been delayed sometimes due to unforeseen circumstances (e.g. a broken equipment or out of stock reagent) or due to the lack of manpower or miscommunication at a given time. Eventually, we put the work on hold in October 2021, when we completed ~60%. Another go to continue was taken in April 2022. No luck! Then plan B was activated, and I have been back in the labs. Despite these challenges, this time has not been lost. We developed new ideas to complement the original plan. Now, the crucial 20% has to be done and dusted within 2 weeks time before teaching starts. Wish us a luck!

After the challenge of leading the Foundation Year Medicine Cycle, I am 100% positive that I love research with all up and downs. This routine is fascinating, it is not static. One day differs from another. Research questions are flowing in non-stop…

September 2022 is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Today marks the start of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which we celebrate every year to support and learn more about kids with cancer, their loving families, the doctors and caregivers who look after them and treat them, the young survivors of cancer and those kids and teens who lost their battle, and the scientists who working hard to find a way to stop childhood cancer.

Childhood cancer is an umbrella term for many other types of this disease. Every 100th cancer patient is a child. Cancer is the 2nd most common cause of death among children after accidents. When it comes to a disease, we have to acknowledge that children are not little adults. They are constantly developing. So their diseases have different ways of progressing and responding to treatment. The causes of childhood cancer, including neuroblastoma, are not known. It would be right to expect more blind alleys and failed ideas in understanding these cancers. To address these challenges, more curiosity-driven and translationally focused research is needed.

The illustration was created by Luiza Erthal

The most common childhood cancers:

  • Leukaemia and lymphoma (blood cancers)
  • Brain and other central nervous system tumours
  • Muscle cancer (rhabdomyosarcoma)
  • Kidney cancer (Wilms tumour)
  • Neuroblastoma (tumour of the non-central nervous system)
  • Bone cancer (osteosarcoma)
  • Testicular and ovarian tumours (gonadal germ cell tumours)

Congratulations Dr Frawley!

June 9th 2022 – A Big Day for Tom and me. This is the end of the 4th year PhD marathon. A long journey through scattered showers and sunny spells, gale winds and stormy snow with sunshine developing elsewhere, turning chilly under clear skies on some days with temperatures below/above zero. The full spectrum of emotions and hard work spiced up with the COVID19 restrictions’ uncertainty. All these together have moulded into a new high skilled researcher – Dr Thomas Frawley.

My greatest thanks to Tom’s examiners Profs Elena Aikawa (Harvard Medical School, USA) and Marc Devocelle (RCSI, Ireland)!!

This work would not be possible without the generous support from the Irish Research Council and National Children’s Research Centre.

Not quite all back to in-person – the EFEM student Symposium 2022

Despite our last blog post celebrating the regained opportunity to meet with other researchers in person and all the benefits that come with it I just had the pleasure of presenting at the first European Federation for Experimental Morphology (EFEM) Student Symposium online.

While it would have been easy for me to attend in person, as the event was hosted and organised here at RCSI, not many others would have had it quite so easy. As the name suggests, researchers from all across Europe attended. Every EFEM associated anatomical society across Europe and RCSI, as the host institution, had the opportunity to select two members to present. I was honoured to be chosen to represent RCSI. Overall, 15 different countries were represented in the student talks which made for a diverse mix that was particularly nice for the bit of organized fun at the end of the first day which encouraged networking.

Especially, because having only begun my PhD this past year I felt the category Preliminary Results and Outlook aimed at Undergrads, Masters and early-stage PhD students perfectly suited the stage of my project. This was also a brilliant way to see what other students at my level were doing in the field of anatomical research all across Europe. Having this chance to see research in progress was refreshing and uplifting contrasted with the usually more rounded later stage presentations. Having studied anatomy in my undergraduate degree I was also delighted to simply engage with more conventional anatomical research than I currently do myself.

Ronja Struck, 1Yr PhD student at the EFEM Student Symposium 2022

A wonderful opportunity to gain insights into, for example, the implicit knowledge of academia was the career development part of the conference. Talks about academia, industry and publishing offered a chance to get an inside view of those career paths at different positions within them. Especially the typical day in a research journal’s editor provided a new perspective on what is important when writing papers and will have lasting benefits for me and my scientific writing.

But by far the reason why I’ll remember this conference for the longest time is that being awarded runner up in the category Preliminary Results and Outlook reassured me that I am on the right track and that there is purpose in what I do. Despite the online format of the conference, I had the honour of receiving my prize in person, because Prof. Fabio Quondamatteo, the organiser of the event is based at RCSI.

Overall, the two days were an important step in consolidating my faith in my work and the career path that I have chosen.

Written by Ronja Struck, the IRC-CFNCRF funded PhD student

Return of the in-person conference – IACR2022

In-person conferences are back at last! In March 2021 I attended the IACR conference for the first time, albeit virtually. While there were some great talks at IACR 2021, the virtual experience was lacking in the networking and socialising opportunities that go hand-in-hand with traditional conferences. So I was very excited to be Cork-bound for IACR 2022 in March of this year.

To my surprise, my abstract was selected for a Proffered talk, meaning I had 10 minutes in the limelight of the IACR podium to present my research on immune markers in neuroblastoma. Having gone two years without presenting to a crowd, it was an adrenaline-filled experience, and it was great being surrounded by my colleagues after the talk rather than being at home alone in front of my computer.

Catherine Murphy, PhD student at IACR2022

There were many very memorable research talks and posters at IACR, but some of the best memories came from the moments in between the scientific sessions. From the train down to Cork with my lab group, to buffet dinners, a quick journey into Cork city, going for a swim in the lovely hotel pool, and singing and dancing the night away at the gala dinner on the last day of the conference.

One of the highlights of the conference for me was the awards ceremony at the gala dinner, where to my delight I was awarded the Best Proffered PhD talk! What a fantastic way to end a great few days at IACR 2022.

Written by Catherine Murphy

IACR Meeting 2022: 2 years + a pandemic in between

It was February 2020, just before one of the biggest global pandemics struck, that I attended the IACR as a research assistant. It was my first official conference and it is safe to say ‘Imposter Syndrome’ was my main feeling going down to Galway on the train. Fast forward 2 years and my feelings travelling to IACR 2022 in Cork could not be more different. It is amazing what starting a PhD during a pandemic can do for your confidence and skills as a researcher – a sink or swim moment if there was ever one. My first IACR in Galway was one to remember surrounded by like-minded scientists, all brimming with new ideas and exciting discoveries. As such, I had high hopes for IACR 2022. And it did not disappoint.

Ellen King, PhD student at the IACR Meeting 2022

My PhD project focuses on the development of a vaccine to treat neuroblastoma so I was very excited to hear talks from some of the leading experts in vaccine research, both in industry and academia. I gained so much from hearing these experts discuss their research but also discussing other important topics like career progression and how to keep a work/life balance in research. It was refreshing to hear that as scientists we don’t have to (and shouldn’t) work ourselves to the bone 24/7 to be successful. As a young scientist planning to continue into academic research, this left a lasting impression on me. To top off what was already a hugely beneficial conference for me, my poster was shortlisted for a prize. I was shocked, delighted and excited all-in-one. Starting my PhD during a pandemic was not without challenges. Delays in deliveries, delays getting trained on equipment and multiple lockdowns led to what felt like (for me) quite a disjointed start. For my research to be shortlisted by experts was, to be honest, a relief. To know that my work stood out was extremely important to me and that all the hard work does pay off. When my name was called out at the Gala dinner as a Poster Prize Winner, all the doubts that I had (doubts that we all have as scientists) disappeared. I felt very proud and very grateful that my research was recognised at that level. There is no doubt that in-person conferences give a huge boost to young researchers, and I really look forward to presenting my work at the next IACR meeting.

Written by Ellen King