This is how my journey began. On Tuesday, I received an invite from the Children’s Medical Research Foundation to attend the Annual Summer Gala Dinner at the Water Club in Manhattan on Thursday the same week. Are two days enough to plan your trip? Perhaps it depends on many things, I had no reservations. The only one uncertainty was car parking logistics.
Those, who are familiar with Baltimore history and current life, know that your car is your Castle. After the Internet search and chats with my host family, the plan was to get a bus to NY which provides a designated car park.
Three hours on the bus flew in a flash. Wide roads with trees on both sides did remind me of some motorways in Russia. Gigantic tolls – almost 12 lanes in both directions. An impressive tunnel under the Hudson River connects the mainland with Manhatten. One can see a borderline dividing the tunnel into New Jersey and New York parts on about halfway.
What was my first impression of NY once I got off the bus? Many snapshots instantly jumped in linking with Hollywood movies that pictured NY. Mostly from ‘Sex and the City’. A traffic jam here and there. Crazy Taxi and car drivers. Brainless pedestrians. Everyone on the run. Madness. I did enjoy it as a tourist. Would I cope with it on everyday bases? A very big question!
Unfortunately, thanks to the hurricane Florence, not much sightseeing was on offer. All tall buildings were hidden with clouds. Tourists were queuing for hop-on-off.
I had 2 hours before the bus to Baltimore. My choice was Times Square. A classical picture – huge screens are talking to you offering pleasure and entertainment. Come in, relax and enjoy!
Strolling around Cafe shops, theaters, food vans. Looking at tourists and locals. Feeling and absorbing… Short, but sweet.
Last year I have selected this photo of a lovely fountain capturing 3 girls under umbrellas (Drei-Mädchen-Brunnen) in Ballplatz Mainz in support of #ChildhoodCancerAwarnessMonth. This fountain was built between two Catholic girl’s schools symbolising the separate education and a happy childhood. It is charming on its own. And I’ve select it again.
Every child deserves a happy childhood. Raising awareness about childhood cancer we help to make the dreams of children with cancer come true. Dreams for a happy childhood, better treatment, better quality of life full of love ahead through better funding of childhood cancer research and access to innovative treatments.
It is also the unofficial end of summer when many people arrange family gatherings or holidays. So, did our lab. We were all invited to our boss’ house to have a BBQ and chit-chat. As you may expect almost everyone in the lab has a multicultural background which is very proud of. You are in America, babe! I am not an exception. A proud Irish-Russian.
Everyone took advantage of and benefited from that mix. We had Mexican, Argentinian, French, Irish, Jewish, Ethiopian and American Indiana, Idaho, Florida, Maryland bites. Juicy steaks (raw, medium and well done) and burgers grilled by the host Andy were delicious. Have to admit that meat was tastier than I used to buy in Ireland. Should probably look for a new butcher when I come back!
What did surprise me the most? I have been thinking about it on the way home… None of 15 guests did check their mobile or take a pic of food/selfie during that time! Though everyone had this thing in the pocket. We were chatting and laughing. Maybe it is just that people… Fantastic company and a great day out.
Today marks the start of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
The cause of childhood cancers is believed to be due to faulty genes in stem cells that give rise to nerves, skin, blood and other body tissues. For some unknown reasons, the faulty genes can sit quiet and show their ‘bad’ character after birth and programme the cells into cancer cells.
So, there is no evidence that links lifestyle or environmental risk factors to the development of childhood cancer, which is opposite to many adult’s cancers.
Every 100th cancer patient is a child. Cancer is the 2nd most common cause of death among children after accidents.
Children are not little adults and so their cancer. Some childhood cancers have a good outlook and successful protocol of treatments. However, some of the cancers do not respond to the known drugs, or if respond cancer cells find the way to develop resistance and come back being more aggressive. Among theme are some forms of brain tumours, neuroblastoma and sarcomas; cancers developing in certain age groups and/or located within certain sites in the body, along with acute myeloid leukaemia (blood cancer). Children with a rare brain cancer – diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma survive less than 1 year from diagnosis. Children with soft tissue tumours have 5-year survival rates ranging from 64% (rhabdomyosarcoma) to 72%(Ewing sarcoma). Less than50% of children with the aggressive form of neuroblastoma will live beyond 5 years with current treatment strategies.
For majority of children who do survive cancer, the battle is never over. Over 60% of long‐term childhood cancer survivors have a chronic illness as a consequence of the treatment; over 25% have a severe or life-threatening illness.
The most common types of childhood cancer are:
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)
I have a nice collection of pictures related to our lab activities or research, not all of them were posted here. Hope, that Facebook could provide an additional nice platform to store and share them. I am grouping them by theme in an album and link with a relevant blog post.
This was our 2nd time attending the OLCHC Research & Audit Day on May 25th, 2018. The conference provides a great forum for paediatric clinicians to share and update knowledge across different specialties through talks and poster presentations. It is insightful for basic biomedical researchers like us to see other perspectives.
I was delighted to know that two our studies were shortlisted. It is a rewarding feeling to see your Dream Team doing very well. One was the project of the Erasmus+ student Hanne Pappaert and the other was the project of NCRC funded Postdoc John Nolan. Hanne explored our 3D tissue-engineered model of neuroblastoma using collagen-based scaffolds with distinct mechanical properties. These new scaffolds were designed and manufactured by our collaborator Dr Cian O’Leary from Pharmacy Department and Tissue Engineering and Research Group (TERG) headed by Prof Fergal O’Brien. Hanne grew 5 neuroblastoma cell lines on the 3 scaffolds: hard like a rock, soft and fluffy like a cotton wool and a jelly-like. All cells liked the jelly-like environment. This environment is similar to bone marrow – the most common site of neuroblastoma metastasis. We were excited to see the difference as it means we are one step closer to reconstruct this type of tumour spread.
John has expanded our exploration of our 3D neuroblastoma model by examining the content of exosomes – little parcels sent by cancer cells in 3D and as tumours grown in mice. We were thrilled to see a high similarity in the exosomal content. This finding additionally proved the great applicability of our 3D model as a tool to study neuroblastoma.
On November 20th, the Irish neuroblastoma researchers have met for the first time to set up a collaborative research hub. The aim is to consolidate their expertise and skills in order to crack the neuroblastoma code together.
They all have different science background spanning from molecular and cellular biologists, immunologists, tissue-engineering, bioinformatics, mathematical modelling and clinicians representing RCSI, UCD, TCD, OLCHC and NCRC. During this meeting, researchers talked about their challenges and progress finding out that we are complementing each other projects. Clinicians from different OLCHC departments exposed basic researchers to realities of the disease. None would find this information in academic papers: it is what you see in the clinic and how it works in practice.
Big thank you to Dr Cormac Owens for the invitation and linking us together and Prof Jacinta Kelly for mapping the support available from the NCRC and CMRF.
Our next meeting will be held in RCSI in January 2018.
Happy Birthday the Irish Neuroblastoma Research Consortium!
As a part of Science Week, our Department hosted Lab Safari for the secondary school students aiming to give a sense of what scientists do in the lab. The focus of my research is the identification of novel biomarkers for neuroblastoma response to chemotherapy. So, we decided to explain the concept of biomarkers and the importance of discovering novel biomarkers for neuroblastoma. Between me and John we covered biomarker’s basics and carried out the detection of MYCN in neuroblastoma cell lines. Here, I am summing up our activities in the form of Qs & As:
1. What are biomarkers?
Biomarkers are signposts of the body condition. Biomarkers – bio is for biological and markers – for molecules indicating that something is going wrong or differently in the body. They can help doctors to read these changes and identify a condition or disease. There are biomarkers for heart disease, cancer, diabetes and many others.
2. What type of molecules can serve as biomarkers?
Various types of molecules can do the job as long as they can differentiate the normal and abnormal process in the body. It can be DNA, RNA, proteins and hormones. These molecules can be detected in the blood, urine, stool, tumour tissue or any other bodily tissues or fluids.
3. How can we discover novel biomarkers?
Research, research and again research. We have to learn more basic facts about DNA, RNA and proteins. We need to be able to link this knowledge with health conditions including cancer. We need to identify how these molecules speak about the unhealthy conditions. We need to explore whether biomarkers exist within the disease that can predict the response to treatment and outlook.
4. What biomarkers are known in neuroblastoma?
There are various biomarkers that are specific for neuroblastoma. Catecholamines in urine are chemicals produced by neuroblastoma cells. Chromogranin A – is a protein that can be detected in the blood. It is unspecific biomarker because it can be secreted by neuroblastomas and some other tumours (e.g. pancreas and prostate cancer). Various chromosomal aberrations can be biomarkers of neuroblastoma aggressiveness. One of the strongest predictors of rapid neuroblastoma progression is MYCN status.
5. What is MYCN?
The MYCN is a proto-oncogene protein and a member of the MYC family of transcription factors. MYCN was identified in 1983 and very soon became a routine biomarker for neuroblastoma aggressiveness. This protein is very important for the normal embryo development. The amplification of this gene leads to the excess of MYCN protein in cells prompting cells to grow and divide faster transforming normal cells into tumour cells.
6. How did we detect MYCN in neuroblastoma cell lines?
A day before the demonstration, we carried out some preparation steps. We selected several neuroblastoma cell lines with known MYCN status. Some cell lines had MYCN amplification, other didn’t. Among those that did have the amplification, the expression of MYCN protein was different giving us a good illustration of biomarker’s quantity. So, we run SDS-PAGE, a technique that helps to separate the cellular protein mix based on their size.
Then the separated proteins were transferred onto a membrane and exposed to a buffer containing an antibody for MYCN (primary antibody). This antibody recognises only MYCN. At the next step, we added another antibody that has a dual role – it can attach to the primary antibody and produce a signal that can be visualised. The next step would have been the visualisation itself and the one for Lab Safari. So, we were ready.
Once we finished the basics of biomarkers, we moved to the biomarker MYCN detection step. The buffer for visualisation was added and the membrane was imaged.
If you like this idea and want to have this demonstration for your science classes at school, please contact me and we would be happy to do it for you.
The focus of the scientific program was on “Translating Science into Survival”. Talks covered the challenging areas in cancer immunology and immunotherapy. The full list of topics can be found in the meeting program.
At the moment cancer immunology and immunotherapy is a hot topic in the next generation of anti-cancer therapies. Lots of attention is given to checkpoint immunodrugs as it was proven by the prevalence of talks on this subject in the program. Indeed, this drug has great potential, but at the same time, it is not universal. About 50% of patients do not benefit from it.
What lessons have been learned from the talks:
Checkpoint immunotherapies are the main stream
Not all cancer patients would respond to immunodrug
Genetic landscape of a tumour and/or the patient may contribute to this, thus making beneficial to check genetics for this type of treatment
Immunodrugs work better in combination with conventional therapies such as chemotherapy.
The immune system can be tuned by a drug, but it will switch on compensatory mechanisms to balance the intervention.