The second review has been published in Journal of Personalized Medicine on March, 16th. Originally, it was a small review project for Nadiya, a medicine student, last summer. However, it became a big one with all data systematically collected, analysed and condensed. The focus of this review was on Retinoic Acid (RA), widely known as Vitamin A and its role in neuroblastoma. RA plays a vital role in human development. The main feature of RA is to push neuroblastoma cells to become neuron-like cell stopping their aggressiveness and cancer fate. So, we wanted to know more about the ongoing research both in the labs and the clinic. We reviewed primary research articles reporting basic and translational findings as well as clinical trials. Hopefully, it would help other researchers to get a full picture of this topic and a structured resource of experimental models and drugs tested.
Every year, we celebrate Childhood Cancer Awareness Day Internationally. Pre-COVID times, it was straightforward to do a coffee morning, a bake sale, or as we did a Hot Chocholate morning.
To be honest with you, I had almost no presence of childhood cancer in my life until I joined Prof Stallings lab in 2011. When I said ‘almost’, I meant during my adulthood.
My Dad had a younger brother, both started their families at the same time. Our families used to spend a good time together, holidays, birthdays and weekends together. Both I and my cousin Igor were born almost within a year. I remember our play days together but at the level of feelings and stories told by my parents. In the pic, we were held by my nanna.
I do not have a pic where we were 3- or 4-years old. No pic was taken after Igor was diagnosed with blood cancer. He was 1-1.5-year-old. He travelled 800km to the best paediatric oncologists to receive the most progressive treatment back then. It extended his time with the family by four years. But he lost his battle…
How much can remember a 1-, 2-, 4- years old? My last memory – Igor was sleeping in a neat coffin. Adults were muttering. I remember, a tear slowly rolled down from Igor’s closed eyes. I naively asked my nanny why did the dead cousin cry??? He did not want to leave us, – said my nanny softly.
Back then parents were not much informed on the disease, treatments, odds and alternative options. Igor was suffering, no pain relief options were available… No palliative care… Remember my nanny’s words: “These doctors had no hearts. All this child needed was a sense of peace, quiet time with his parents away from the hospital wards”.
Many things have changed since then. Eight out of 10 children with blood cancer are responding to treatment well, they reach adulthood, may even have kids of their own. However, there are some types of childhood cancers that do not respond well and can return to being more aggressive. Cancer steals the child’s future. One of the thieves is neuroblastoma, a solid tumour of undeveloped nerves.
Childhood cancer research is essential to return happy days to kids and their families. Many childhood cancer research charities do their best to secure funds and support researchers like me. It is vital to have a continuous investment in research that helps to understand the weakness of childhood cancer and develop new drugs designed exclusively for kids.
Any restrictions bring challenges, we all know that. COVID related are not different. It is possible to strive and feel explorative!
Level 5+ restrictions left us with 5 km radius of activities to keep us fit and mentally healthy. My brain pictured some distances within probably 30-35 min walk from home assuming my average walking speed at 10-12 km/hr. Two big TESCOs, two LIDLs and one M&S, DCU, Clontarf Castle. Not too bad, I thought.
However, the neighbouring estates became small and too familiar after 14 days of evening walks. The solution was found with an app measuring radius on the map. What a surprise it was to discover that my work is just 200 m outside the 5 km radius! All north city centre and even Grafton street are within 5km!
So, the Saturday explorative walk went through DCU, the Botanic Gardens, along Liffey, crossing O’Connel street towards Docklands, back home through East Wall and Fairview Park staying on the north side all way through.
Making many small discoveries and notes of changes in city infrastructure coloured my walk on a chilly sunny day. Not many people were around and the majority had their masks on. Everyone tried to keep social distancing and behaved responsibly with very few exceptions.
My favourites are the Hungry or Eating tree in King’s Inn Park, and Samuel Beckett Bridge. Pleasant to see the upgrated infrastructure for cyclists in some places – great job by Hazel Chu, the current Lord Mayor of Dublin.
So, the 2021 has begun and the COVID-19 is still challenging us.
Our first lab meeting this year was on Weds, and our, now traditional, coffee morning has happened today. It usually happens on Fridays.
What did we chat about for almost an hour? Well, about making favourite pet’s drawing as Christmas gifts, the development of bicycle’s and bus’ infrastructure, baking recipes, new life targets, like reading more books and doing more healthy stuff.
As the year comes to an end, you are looking back and seeing all achievements in a different light, a light of the COVID glaze. Lab research was at bay for a while, challenges to return and re-start experiments, no scientific meetings in the traditional format where you build your new collaborative net at coffee breaks. Despite all, the team has expanded and we welcomed Ellen and Erin in October.
The NCRC Winter Symposia is a lovely way to wrap the year putting together all hard work and look at the progress done so far. We have an exciting project that has two arms: a blue-sky science and a translational. Working together John and Tom were able to generate promising results on understanding how small membrane-bound vesicles or exosomes can send signals from neuroblastoma cells to cells responsible for new blood vessels formation. They developed a protocol to scale up the production of exosomes, isolate them and characterise. We have a dataset on what these exosomes carry on and now can test how they promote new blood vessels formation. Indeed, more left to do but knowing the direction makes this journey meaningful.
Research is a fascinating journey no doubt. Inquisitive minds try to solve burning puzzles. It takes time. Some puzzles are more complected than the others. One of the hallmarks is the conversion of the resolved puzzle into a scientific story to tell to your peers.
We write and publish these stories. The publishing is another caveat that often makes your story sharper and neater. However, while you are in the process you feel that the mission is impossible.
Delighted to see that one of the missions is completed – a great hallmark for John which coincided with his new research adventure starting in a few days. This is his first first author paper! It is not tautology! It is his first original research paper where he is the first author. This position is a success measure in a research career. His teamwork skills secured him another few original papers. Well done John! Well deserved!
Last month we set ourselves the “10 Laps 10km” challenge for Childhood Cancer Awareness.
Now we have closed the GoFundMe and counted the charity buckets. We are delighted to announce we raised a grand total of €1419! We are over the moon with this sum, as 2020 required a very different kind of fundraiser than previous years.
Our three chosen charities: Children’s Health Foundation Crumlin (formerly CMRF), the Conor Foley Neuroblastoma Cancer Research Foundation, and Neuroblastoma UK, will each receive just over €470.
We’d like to say big thank you to everyone who donated. It will make a huge difference for these charities, this year especially, paving the way to better treatment options for children with cancer in the future.
The new norm, new challenges, new excitement and new achievements! We all proud to say that we completed 10K Vhi Womens Mini marathon socially distanced. Our paces were so different that distancing came absolutely natural. We ran it individually but were a team mentally. Even the capricious Irish weather was our ally. The Sun was bright. The air was fresh and crispy.
This was an individual challenge #POWEROF10: just you and the trail. 10 laps around St Stephen’s Green park were to make the target 10K in aid of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. The celebration of life, therapeutical advancements, the strength of little patients battling their cancer and their families, doctors and carers who are supporting them in their journey. The emphasis on the gaps in available treatments and diagnosis and the importance of research that needs funding.
Personally, my 10K were split into two parts. The first 4K were full of arguments with my body. Why didn’t I like to do laps? Could I complete 10K? Was I fit to do it? Keep going! No walking – better slow jogging. Did one lap make 1K? Should I do a longer lap instead? And so on and so forth. Then, the second part kicked in. My body stopped arguing and began to enjoy it. I noticed beautiful Autumn colours on the trees, people walking around with a cup of coffee or chatting away, saw my team members overtaking me, and our volunteers counting our laps. People on the street and in the park were cheering us up. What a wonderful and fulfilling day!
As Catherine says: “The 10 Laps 10km challenge was tough! Like many people, I took up running casually during the lockdown, however, I never did more than a couple of kilometres at once, so I was absolutely not prepared for running 10. But the cheers from our socially distanced spectators and all the online support we received meant I got through it. Also knowing what a positive impact this challenge could have for the future of childhood cancer treatment provided plenty of motivation to finish the race 💛🎗”
Our Go Fund Me page is still open until this Sunday (October 11th midnight) if you wish to support us.