CoVID-19 Universe

Who could have thought that this nasty virus would spread fast? A new reality called CoVID-19 has started since all Irish education was shut down last Friday, March 13th 2020.

Initial 2 weeks of tough restrictions and self-control. Everything that seemed granted is not the same anymore. Now, it is a learning curve of how to live fully in a cocoon. Work, shop, gather and entertain.

A week of self-adjusting is gone. I am transforming from a regular IT user to almost advanced. Though, I am not sure it all up to speed. I do hope that at least my writing skills and typing speed will improve a lot by the end of this quarantine.

Stay Safe!

International Women’s Day – March 8th, 2020

International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on the 8th of March every year around the world. It began as a point in the movement for women right back to 1908.  

Some countries do celebrate IWD, others don’t. It may take many shapes and forms. For example, Russians do celebrate it and have a day off! This Day is a big day for every girl and woman. To some of them, it is a recognition of their contribution to the family and work. However, indeed it is a St Valentine’s Day for teen girls. Around March, 8th the sales of flowers can double or triple!

It happened later in my life when I fully recognised the notability of both equality and the contribution of many women to what we have now. It was a long and windy road with so many outstanding females that shook the old societies and made these recognitions happened. But it is far from the completion.

Today, we can remember many gifted women that made breakthroughs in various areas of science. Some of them even got no proper recognition for their work like Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) or Alice Ball (1892-1916). But things are changing. They are changing for the good!

Happy International Women’s Day 2020!

Can you spot 5 differences?

Here are two pictures of young and promising researchers. Both are inspecting cells under the microscope. Can you spot 5 differences?

Preclinical models for neuroblastoma: Advances and challenges

What a great start for 2020! Our long-lasting and productive collaboration with our colleagues from Tissue-Engineering Research Group Brough to live an important overview of the preclinical models for neuroblastoma. We particularly focused on the 3D in vitro models available.

During this exercise of searching and reading research papers, we found that researchers in neuroblastoma are looking for alternatives of traditional 2D culture. It is may be slow at the moment but the interest is there.

3D neuroblastoma models worked well in both validating known chemotherapies and screening new. The concepts and materials that were initially developed for bone or tissue regeneration can be used to a miniature model of neuroblastoma.

3D tissue-engineered models can accelerate drug discovery and development, reducing the use of animals in preclinical studies.

Full version is available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304383520300239?via%3Dihub

3D Bio-printing: dream or reality?

Here we go. Our first attempt to bio print neuroblastoma cells using Rastrum technology.

A compact pink oven-like device with a user-friendly interface and ‘magical’ disperse of cells and 3D environments. We bioprinted two types of neuroblastoma cells. One-easily forming clusters or tight groups and the other with high individualism in two types of homes: friendly and unfriendly. ‘Friendly’ homes have lots of clues to help cells to attach and grow. ‘Unfriendly’ homes have just a 3D niche aka house without furniture. Let’s see which homes cells like most.

Hell… and Back…

It was the end of July when Ciara suggested doing ‘Hell and Back‘ for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. It sounded challenging and new for me so I supported this idea. We branded ourselves as #Lysis2Kill connecting to our biological background and crafted our very own T-shirts.

I was glad that I did not search for much about this challenge… I hoped that my current fitness level would suffice to complete it. Maybe coming even in the last wave…

It was on sunny Sunday. The day was fantastic. A few clouds in the sky. Many people came and did similar stuff – fundraising for the charity of their choice. Some did it for their own satisfaction or just for fun.

The atmosphere was buzzing. Throughout the challenge, people helped others they didn’t even know. Everyone cheered and smiled back. The team spirit was just fantastic.

#Lysis2Kill before the start of Hell and Back

We ran, crawled, climbed, walked & swam. There were moments when I prompted myself to think only about great and picturesque surroundings. We ended up battered and bruised. It was tough and our bodies were recovering for a good while after… However, saying that I loved every minute of it. It was an exceptional experience.

#Lysis2Kill completed the Hell&Back challenge dedicated to raising awareness to Childhood Cancer and Childhood Cancer Research Charities that work hard and dream big. Some of them are established and run by parents who lost their child to neuroblastoma. Thanks to our supporters, we raised 1.7K to support three wonderful charities.

YOUR SUPPORT helped us to cross the finish line!

We put together these funds and the Waffle Baking Morning money which gave as final 2.1K Euros. We equally divided the pot between Children’s Medical Research Foundation, Neuroblastoma UK and the Conor Foley Neuroblastoma Cancer Research Foundation.

MANY THANKS FOR YOUR BIG HEARTS!!!

The Waffle Baking Morning

Now, when my team has expanded, it is so easy to come up with fundraising ideas and then develop one in a well-rounded event. In February, we ran Hot Chocolate Morning to raise awareness in childhood cancer and celebrate the International Childhood Cancer Awareness Day. We have an entire month of September to make this disease visible. It was the first time for some of my team members.

Last Friday, I got to take part in my first fundraising event at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Our team hosted a waffle morning for #childhoodcancerawarenessmonth and we are delighted to have raised €403.85 thanks to everyone’s generous donations! Our fundraising does not stop here, in just a few weeks time all 7 of us will be taking on the 8km Hell and Back challenge to raise more awareness and funds for our four chosen charities: CMRF Crumlin, Neuroblastoma UK, and the Conor Foley Neuroblastoma Cancer Research Foundation. We hope everyone enjoyed their little Friday treat!” Catherine Murphy, PhD student funded by Neuroblastoma UK

New Chapter – Cancer BioEngineering Group

I have started a new chapter in my research career by joining the Department of Anatomy and Regenerative Medicine as a StAR Research Lecturer. By a coincidence, it has happened on the first day of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. It might be symbolic.

The new start requires fresh ideas. Now, the new chapter is called Cancer Bioengineering Group. Exciting times ahead!

This Friday the 13th of September the Cancer-Bioengineering research group will be hosting a ‘Waffle Morning’ in honour of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. 

Pop into the ground floor staff common room from 8.30am to enjoy some delicious freshly made waffles and support the wonderful charities; CMRF Crumlin, NCRC, CFNCRF and NBUK.

We promise to bake 3D waffle engineered scaffolds and populate them with marshmallows, berries, cream and Nutella!

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

We celebrate Childhood Cancer Awareness Month every September. This is our chance to talk about this cancer, the patients and their families and what can be done to make a change.

Together with Prof Richard Arnett we asked a question – how intense is communication about neuroblastoma/childhood cancer on Twitter. There were 52126 neuroblastoma tweets in 69 days. Is it a big number?

#neuroblastoma on Twitter

Yellow dotes represent tweets. The intensity of yellow reflects the number of tweets per account. Many of them formed isolated communities with no connections. A few reach out. And this is very sad, it means that these communities do not interact with each other.

Communities have to come together then they will be heard. The Childhood Cancer Awareness months is a great opportunity to do it.

Does Research Lab Experience Differ?

Each student is different. The best way to learn something is to experience it. Two months is a very short span as some experiments run for 3-6 months. But it gives a good taste on what research actually is. How different it is from CSI or Criminal Minds.

“Over the past two months, I had the privilege to work under my PI, Dr. Olga Piskareva and supervisor, Dr. John Nolan in the cancer genetics lab as a summer research student. My project was about gene expression of apoptotic genes as well as detecting apoptosis via flow cytometry in melanoma cell lines treated with chemotherapy agents and microRNAs. I had previous experiences in other research labs, but I have never learnt as much as I did in a span of two months! After this experience, I gained a better understanding of how cancer cells behave in different environments and also learnt to appreciate the difficulty of running a good experiment. Ever since my grandmother passed away due to cancer, I vowed to become a cancer researcher. This summer I have achieved this dream and hopefully continue to pursue my career as a physician-scientist!” Martin Liu

Martin Liu