November 22, 2023 – Catherine was officially coined Dr Catherine Murphy. A Big Day for Catherine, her family and me.
Catherine joined our team in July 2019 to carry out a research project funded by Neuroblastoma UK. In this project, she aimed to use 3D culturing to engineer a novel experimental model and study the biology and immunology of neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer. There was the full spectrum of challenges and hard work spiced up with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 restrictions!
The PhD journey is never a straight line. It has a range of colours with 50+ shades for each. There are black alleys and hidden cul de sacs. Between July 2019 and June 2023, some days were sunny and bright, and some had scattered showers, gale winds and stormy snow, with sunshine developing elsewhere. The journey was spiced up with publications, conferences, travels, days out and fundraising events with the team.
Of note, she was behind our Twitter activities and blogging #AskCat, making our team visible! All these together have moulded into a new multi-skilled professional – Dr Catherine Murphy!
Well done to Catherine! Wish you the best of luck in your new adventure!
A wonderful day of knitting – Knit-A-Thon-2023 raised 913 euros. A massive thank you to everyone who stopped by and donated on the day and beyond. Every cent counts! The money was split evenly between our four chosen charities: The Conor Foley Neuroblastoma Research Foundation (CFNRF), Neuroblastoma UK (NBUK), Oscars Kids and Childhood Cancer Ireland (CCI). These charities were established and are run by parents, some of whom lost their children to cancer. They continue their children’s legacy, doing an amazing job of advocating for children with cancer and better funding for research and aftercare.
And a special thank you to Ciara’s mam Aggie for the amazing handmade raffle prizes (chromosomes, antibodies, cup holders and many more) and a Master class on the day! We thank Jenny Duffy (RCSI Events and Communications Coordinator) for her time crocheting with us and for us! Thanks to Anggie’s and Jenny’s skills, there were lots of mascots to win – and many of them collected already. We much appreciate the support from the RCSI Estates and Porters who looked after us on the day.
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. Despite intensive multimodal treatment, as many as 1 in 5 children with aggressive neuroblastoma 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 Tuesday, the 19th of September, we are running a Knit-A-Thon using gold and purple yarn to mark childhood cancer and neuroblastoma, respectively. Our patterns are inspired by Neuroblastoma UK and Mr Google, indeed.
On the day, 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.
Every year we manage to raise an amazing 1500-2000 euros by organising a new challenge. We are eager to surpass that target this year. All donations no matter how small are appreciated at GoFundMe.
What feels like ages ago now, my friend had asked me to bake the cake for her wedding. Sounds like a big ask at first. But I managed to talk myself off the ledge I climbed onto with the face every person pulled that I told of this plan. Simply by remembering that she is fully aware of who I am and never wanted a classic wedding cake but rather a little something to remind her of the good old days when we’d bake together. Her, following the recipe to a t and me, doing my darndest to find a way to make it our own, have a little fun with it and usually ending up making the cake a little worse than it would have been had I just stayed out of it. After plenty of back and forth, I decided on Fanta cake. With the wedding in the height of the strawberry season, what better than a sponge base with a little cornucopia of strawberries perched atop a vanilla cream dream? But the height of strawberry season also means scorching summer… It was a scorching hot day, with the sun beaming down mercilessly. As I meticulously assembled the cake, whispers of doubt crept in. Would the cream layer melt and cause the cake to run off in the heat?
But hey, the best part of this cake is the base, anyway. So I shoved away the doubts and got on with it: In a mixing bowl, I beat 4 eggs, 250g sugar and a pack of vanilla sugar until they reached a fluffy consistency. Then added 125ml of oil and 150ml of Fanta, creating a harmonious blend. Gradually, I mixed in 250ml of flour and 3 tsp of baking powder until all ingredients were well incorporated.
While that baked at 180°C for not quite 25 mins on a well-greased tray I started worrying about the problem child: the cream mixture. This is a funny one not just because it made me worry on the day, but it was also the reason I couldn’t really test bake here in Dublin because you can’t buy ‘schmand’ over here. I have since learned that schmand is simply sour cream with 20% instead of 10% fat and that crème fraiche is the same thing with 30% fat. So I could have saved myself a headache had I just mixed sour cream and crème fraiche and tested baking over here rather than the day before in a rush… anyway, I mixed together combine 600 ml of cream, 400 ml of sour cream, 2 packets of vanilla sugar, and 2 packets of dr oetker vanilla paradise cream, a no boil vanilla pudding. And only when the cake is cold, this gets spread all over it. Mine was still lukewarm, but it worked still.
And finally, don’t underestimate how long it takes to wash and arrange the strawberries. And how many do you need. The recipe says 1.5kg. But mine were so big that I needed to run back to the shops that morning to get more, even though I had more than 1.5kg of good strawberries left.. But I made it. Everything seemed doable yet. That’s when things turned tits up. The cake glaze didn’t work for me. First, it didn’t want to solidify, and then it just kept running off the cake. When spreading the vanilla cream, I tried to make a little barrier around the outside of the cake. And at first, that worked well enough. But the strawberries were so high that I needed to fill in more and more cake glaze that just kept seeping off the cake onto the counter and away. But that was going to have to be a tomorrow problem.
Quickly dressed friends already showed up to take me to the wedding. In an instant of sound thinking, I grabbed a spare tray and some ice packs to keep the cake cool on a scorching day and felt all the better for it when everyone else was overheating and with the cake on my lap, my thighs were positively frozen.
It even survived the ceremony in the car before we arrived at the venue, where it was finally placed in a fridge again before everyone got to try it and comment.
I think that may have been the first cake I ever made that no one told me how I could have improved on it after they tried it. Everyone seemed delighted, the strawberries were really juicy and flavourful, and even people who didn’t know I made the cake but thought it was part of the catering complimented it. Not sure that’s what my friend had in mind when tasking me with the cake, but she seemed delighted even though I didn’t deliver one of my classic disasters. Maybe there’s a point to recipes after all.
I’m Ellen, and I am a 3rd year PhD student in the Cancer Bioengineering Group. Last week I attended and presented at my first international conference, ISCT (International Society for Cell & Gene Therapy), in Paris. I spent five days in Paris with three of them at the conference where scientists, researchers and pharma professionals came from far and wide. There was a strong focus on collaboration between industry teams and academics, and it gave me a lot to think about when it comes to my own PhD and career journey as a whole.
As a soon-to-be final-year student, the next step in my career has been on my mind. Starting out, I was very sure I wanted to progress within academia and follow the “traditional” researcher route. Industry always seemed so far removed from the basic sciences, and specifically biology research roles are hard to come by in Ireland. Having the opportunity to travel to Paris and meet with such a wide range of professionals really opened my eyes to the possibility of a career in the industry. It was reassuring to see that even after leaving academia, there is a cross-over and lots of collaboration. Industry or academia? The fork in the road when it comes to this career choice is becoming lesser and lesser.
While I was in Paris, I had a lot of time to ponder the fantastic science and research that I discussed at the talks (Did you know? One adult human heart produces enough energy in one lifetime to power an 18-wheeler to the moon and back). Additionally, I could also see first-hand that the positive aspects that we associate with academia (presenting research, freedom of research topics and the conference wine receptions, of course) are also readily available as a non-academic based scientist. In fact, there is a career that has the “goodness of both”. So many academics discussed start-ups and spin-out companies developed off the back of their academic research, and there were even talks that discussed the how, what, when and where of transitioning between the two settings.
I’m so grateful that I could attend this conference. I presented my research (a project very much blended between academia and industry), got to chat to like-minded people and came home with a wealth of new knowledge. This knowledge will not only enrich my PhD project but will stand for me as my career moves from student to fully-fledged scientist. The topic of post-PhD job hunting often comes with a knot in the stomach, but seeing the exciting opportunities that are available out there has me much more excited than stressed about this next step. And now to finish this PhD so that I can take that next step 🙂
My trip became possible thanks to the Company of Biologist travel grant and support from the RCSI Department of Anatomy and Regenerative Medicine.
My best friend turned 30 over the weekend, and I decided to surprise her by coming to her party in Palermo 🥰
While I was in Palermo, I asked my grandmother to cook for me one of my favourite dishes: pasta alla norma. Who knew that I would be writing a blog post about it during my back flight to Dublin?!
It is typical Sicilian pasta that reminds me of my childhood summer that I used to spend with my relatives in our sea house. ☺️Those months of holidays were really packed with activities: morning at the beach, lunch at home, a quick nap, and a play date with friends until my mom came home from work (good times 😂). For lunch, my grandmother used to make me pasta alla norma, which I ate sitting on a low wall on the patio. I loved that moment, and I’m sure you will love this delicious pasta 😊
Sunflower and olive oil
Grated cheese (we use a typical cheese named ricotta salata, but it is possible to use parmigiano as well)
Step 1: Rinse the aubergine and pat dry with kitchen paper. Then, chop them into cubes of small sizes.
Step 2: Drizzle a splash of sunflower oil into a large frying pan and heat it. Once hot, add the aubergines in a single layer and fry until softened and golden -stirring occasionally.
Step 3: Place the fried aubergine in a single layer on a kitchen towel to drain the oil. In this way, the aubergine will be crunchy. 😋
Step 4: Add a splash of olive oil to a pan or pot, and when the oil is warm, add the tomato sauce. Add the salt and leave to cook on low heat for a few minutes.
Step 5: Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until “al dente”, which means that it should be soft enough to eat but still have a bit of bite and firmness to it.
Step 6: Drain the pasta and place it again in the pot. Then, add the tomato sauce and the aubergine and toss well.
Step 7: Divide between bowls, grate over the cheese and finish with the basil scattered on top.
We all collect trophies and tokens to bring home during holidays. So, do I. Teas and spices are a zeal for me. For Christmas 2022, we stayed in Lanzarote, and I was determined to find something special in this part of Spain: a taste, a spice or a dish. With a careful touch by César Manrique’s vision, the volcano-shaped countryside inspires and recharges.
The time was festive, prompting me to make a featured dish. It would have been a roasted Turkey or Ham in Dublin, but what could I do on holidays? I came very quickly to an idea to cook Paella in our self-catering house. I tasted it several times but have yet to cook it myself. Why not? Although Paella is widely recognised as one of the most popular and renowned Spanish dishes, it’s important to note that the term “paella” (or more accurately, “la paella”) actually refers to the cooking pan used to prepare the dish rather than the dish itself.
Ingredients, including a Paella spices’ mix sachet, were easy to buy in the supermarket. All I needed was a recipe. Indeed, it is not a problem nowadays – just Google it! So, I cooked a Seafood Paella for our family Christmas Dinner. Yummy!
In February 2023, I attended a conference in Barcelona and chatted with my Spanish colleagues about Paella over lunch. What was a big surprise for me is that the authentic version has chicken but not seafood. Spanish still debate, indeed, how faithful Paella should taste. Modern Paella certainly, has many variations. For example, peas and chorizo. Having only chicken makes Paella close to Plov, Pilaf or Pilau – an Asian dish with rice, vegetables, spices and meat, which I do often anyway. This is one of my family’s favourite dishes. Now, I can do it a Spanish style. So, here is a chicken Paella recipe with optional ingredients for every taste. Enjoy!
Step 1: Cut chicken is small pieces, grate carrots, and chop onions.
Step 2: Heat the olive oil in a large wok or casserole pot. Add the chicken and cook for 20-25 min.
Step 3: Add the chopped onion and grated carrots and soften for 5 mins.
Step 4: Add the smoked paprika, thyme and paella rice, and stir for 1-2 min.
Step 5: Add 3 glasses of water [so water covers rise excessively]. Season and cook, covered, for about 15 mins, stirring now and again until the rice is almost tender and still surrounded with some liquid.
Optional: A casserole pan is handy for chicken Paella as the chicken needs more space and longer cooking time than e.g. seafood. Chopped tomatoes [200g] can be added in step 4. Chicken can be replaced with the seafood mix [400g] but should be added when rice is cooked. Then rice should be cooked in chicken broth (750-800 ml). Chorizo can be added in Step 5. Squeeze over the lemon juice, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with the lemon wedges.
Had you told me before I started my PhD that I’d rushedly be writing a blog post on a bus in Bergamo, and it’s all part of my project, I certainly would have laughed and figured sure, maybe as a one-time exception if I find out something fascinating. But no, this is my second conference abroad this year, out of five in the past 4 months. My view on science and what is important to conduct good science has significantly changed since then, though. I have a ton of data from my secondment to Vilnius, but it is not all analysed yet. There are a number of decisions left to be made before my project becomes fully rounded and provides useful conclusions that I could share with people. But conferences serve another purpose. If everyone was only there to present their finished project, who would they present them to? At the current stage of my research, exchanging ideas, receiving feedback and seeing what others do helps immensely to provide perspective and both motivate me to do more and do better, inspire me to find new angles and also to relax and understand the bigger picture your project is a part, rather than getting bogged down by the day-to-day issues that so easily cloud your mind in everyday routine (as far as a PhD allows for routine…). In this way, conferences can shape a project, inform analyses and provide far more than an excuse to be out of the office.
Even more enjoyable are, of course, conferences when they’re held in such beautiful places! I’d never been to Barcelona or Milan. While I have no intention of making the cultural metropolises of Athlone and Limerick pale in comparison, it does feel different when adding an afternoon of sightseeing, includes a couple of centuries-old towns that look like they fell out of a fairy tale and churches built in the 13 hundreds in 20 degrees in March rather than freezing your fingers off after just an hour outside or seeing some trees and an old pub. I never thought science would facilitate me seeing the world, but I am delighted that it does. And while I never would have expected it before, I can now appreciate the value of presenting your project halfway to ensure that it’s the best it could have been when it’s done.
For a short month, we really made the most of February in the Cancer Bioengineering Group. We attended not one, but two conferences both outside of Dublin, with presentations from every member of the group and more great memories made.
At the end of 2022, I was lucky enough to be sent on a 3-month research secondment to the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) in Barcelona, so I was delighted to return in February for the Transdisciplinary Approaches in Neuroblastoma Therapy symposium. I got to present my work from my secondment in “Flash-poster” style, alongside other group members Ciara, Lin & Alysia. Ellen and Ronja also did a great job presenting a more extended cut of their research, and we got to see team lead Olga give a round-up of our group’s work as a whole.
Outside of the conference schedule, I was tasked with the role of Tour Guide because of my familiarity with the beautiful city of Barcelona. I led a group of 20+ researchers to a small bar in the Gothic Quarter for some well-deserved refreshments after a day of conferencing, brought my team to my favourite tapas restaurant for lunch (I still dream of the croquetas) and went on a lovely walk up Montjuic Hill to take in the views of Barcelona and reminisce on the 3 months I had spent there.
It felt as though the Ryanair flight had just touched down in Dublin when we started preparing for another conference – the Irish Association for Cancer Research (IACR) meeting, taking place in Athlone. With great memories from IACR 2022 in Cork, I prepared for the conference with great excitement – looking forward to both interesting science talks, and good craic with the gang of RCSI researchers attending the conference. I had a poster presentation for this, again focussing on the work I carried out on secondment in IBEC as well as some work at home in RCSI. I enjoyed my chats with the poster judges who gave some good insights on the work. Ellen and Lin had oral presentations at the conference so again I got to resume my role as the group Twitter mom, taking pictures and drafting tweets while the girls showcased their great research.
Each day when the conference was drawn to a close we set our sights on having a bit of fun with the other attendees. We enjoyed a pint of Guinness and some Trad music in the oldest bar in Ireland – Sean’s bar (they had the certificate to prove this). We made friends from outside RCSI including researchers from Queens University Belfast and Sales Representatives from various lab supply companies, had a good dance in the residents’ bar of our hotel and took over the dancefloor of a small local club. The gala dinner was lovely as always, and I’ll forever have fond memories of my lab group playing “Heads Up” to entertain ourselves in between courses. Finally, a highlight for me was being given a Highly Commended Poster Award at the dinner, such a nice acknowledgement to receive for my work and a lovely way to wrap up the last conference of my PhD.
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.
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!