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

Research Lab Experience as Medical Student

Last Friday we said Good Bye to 3 medical students who joined us to gain research experience. It has been quiet in the lab since they finished! It is always interesting to see their evolving journey as researchers.

“This research opportunity has given me the most exciting and rewarding experience during my undergraduate Medicine course. I got hands-on experience in ongoing medical research in Cancer biology which I think is unique of its kind for any undergraduate medical student. Throughout this journey, I could interact with many people coming from different domains including my collogues and my supervisor which giving me the opportunity to form professional relationships. I feel that my medical background helped me a lot along with my passion for the research work what I did in the lab. This research experience gave me an opportunity to gain and strengthen my skills like communication, time management, sincerity and judiciousness. I gained academic skills like scientific writing and critical thinking. I got exposure to various scientific equipment which I think is quite a rare opportunity for any undergraduate medical student. Overall, I think that by committing myself to medical research has given me a chance to understand Medicine from a different angle which I feel is an amazing and accomplishing experience for a medical student like me.”
Sanat Rashinkar

Lab breakfast

“I arrived to the lab on my very first day feeling a little bit nervous but excited at the same time. Firstly, my partner Sanat and I were given a safety introduction talk by Seamus, who seemed very strict in regard to the safety rules but also turned out to be very fun. We then met the team who we’d be working with: Dr Olga, John, Ciara, Catherine, Thomas… Everyone turned out to be very lovely and friendly, making you feel very comfortable in the workplace. I also enjoyed the fact that we’d go for breakfast all together every once in a while; this really makes you feel like a part of a big family.
My project was about melanoma and required some training that had to be completed before I could start my actual work. At first, everything seemed quite simple, however, when I started my actual research some things didn’t turn out as nicely as I expected. I mainly struggled with the microscope but Ciara was very patient with me and would give me a hand whenever I struggled.
Overall, it was a very pleasant experience that gave me a great perspective into research, working alongside my colleagues on something as important as cancer. I truly believe that anyone who gets a chance to participate in research should really go for it as it makes you look at science differently and can also be fun.” Evgeniia Mustafaeva

Launching Neuroblastoma UK funded project

Exciting times ahead for my team – to study neuroblastoma – immune cells interaction. This 3 years project is funded by Neuroblastoma UK to support the interdisciplinary collaboration between experts in fields of neuroblastoma biology, immunology and tissue engineering from Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Trinity College Dublin and Queen Mary University London.

Catherine Murphy, a new PhD candidate funded by Neuroblastoma UK

In this project, we will engineer a novel experimental model to study the biology and treatment of neuroblastoma. We will build upon our recently published model where we used collagen-based scaffolds and neuroblastoma cells to test their response to chemo drugs.

Catherine will grow different neuroblastoma cells together with immune cells using a 3D printing technology. She will travel to Queen Mary University London and learn how to do 3D tumour bioprinting. This technology allows the generation of reproducible scaffolds that replicate the architecture of tumour tissues as seen in patients. She will use RCSI/AMBER facilities to optimise this model here and to study how immune cells recognise cancer cells, attack and eventually kill them. This experimental model will help us to advance current immunotherapies and develop more effective treatments for neuroblastoma.

5th Neuroblastoma Research Symposium, Cambridge, 11-12th April 2019

Here, we are – the Irish neuroblastoma research team landed at the 5th Neuroblastoma Research Symposium in Cambridge. Four poster presentations by four enthusiastic scientists. The two days crash course in neuroblastoma – vibrant, intense, informative.

I had one of the most enjoyable poster sessions in the last few years! A genuine interest in our 3D in vitro cancer models by both academics and Industry. Hope, to keep the ball rolling and strengthen these new links.

The Symposium programme was an excellent balance of the new transnational outcomes with hardcore developmental cellular programmes. From ‘How neuronal precursors select their fate and how they can escape the developmental constraints? How this knowledge can help to advance our understanding of neuroblastoma aetiology?’ to ‘New drugs that demonstrated great potency in pre-clinical studies’ via ‘how we can work together more efficiently to progress quicker’

Indeed, the success of the research meeting became possible thanks to the strategic vision and leadership of organisers!

Dream Team in Action: Olga, John, Ciara & Tom

SYMPOSIUM PROGRAMME
THURSDAY 11TH APRIL
12:00 – 13:00 Registration, lunch & poster setup

13:00 – 13:10 Introduction – Neuroblastoma UK & CRUK Cambridge Centre

Session 1: Neuroblastoma biology & prognosis

Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre Neuro-oncology Programme Session

Chair: Kate Wheeler (Oxford Children’s Hospital)

13:10 – 13:40 Sandra Ackermann (Cologne): The genetic basis of favourable outcome and fatal tumour progression in neuroblastoma

13:40 – 14:10 Rogier Versteeg (Amsterdam): The dark side of neuroblastoma

14:10 – 14:40 Katleen de Preter (Ghent): Improved diagnosis and risk stratification of paediatric cancers using liquid biopsies

14:40 – 14:55 Sue Burchill (Leeds): Self-renewing neuroblastoma cells isolated from bone marrow aspirates of children with stage M disease share a mesenchymal expression signature: an NCRI CCL CSG Neuroblastoma Group Study

14:55 – 15:15 Combined discussion

15:15 – 15:45 Tea with Posters

Session 2: Targeted & combination therapy I

Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre Neuro-oncology Programme Session

Chair: Marie Arsenian Henriksson (Karolinska)

15:45 – 16:15 Frank Westermann (Heidelberg): Novel metabolic dependencies of MYCN-driven neuroblastoma

16:15 – 16:45 Gerard Evan (Cambridge): Is Myc really master of the universe?

16:45 – 17:00 Melinda Halasz (University College Dublin): Anti-Cancer Effects of Diphenyleneiodonium Chloride (DPI) In MYCN-Amplified Neuroblastoma

17:00 – 17:15 Evon Poon (ICR, Sutton): Pharmacological blockade of high-risk MYCN driven neuroblastoma using an orally-bioavailable CDK2/9 inhibitor

17:15 – 17:35 Combined discussion

Downing College – Main Hall.jpg
17:35 – 19:15 Poster viewing & Drinks

19:30 Symposium Dinner at Downing College (map for dinner)

FRIDAY 12TH APRIL
08:30 – 08:50 Coffee & pastries

Session 3: Neural crest & differentiation therapy I

Chair: Margareta Wilhelm (Karolinska)

08:50 – 09:20 Igor Adameyko (Karolinska): Normal development of sympathoadrenal system resolved with lineage tracing and single cell transcriptomics

09:20 – 09:50 Quenten Schwarz (Adelaide): Guiding sympathoadrenal neural crest cells to the adrenal primordia

09:50 – 10:05 Claudia Linker (King’s College London): Notch coordinates cell cycle progression and migratory behaviour leading to collective cell migration

10:05 – 10:20 Combined discussion

10:20 – 10:50 Coffee with Posters

Session 4: Neural crest & differentiation therapy II

Chair: Gareth Evans (York)

10:50 – 11:20 Karen Liu (King’s College London): ALK and GSK3 – shared features of neuroblastoma and neural crest

11:20 – 11:35 Anestis Tsakiridis (Sheffield): Efficient generation of trunk neural crest and sympathetic neurons from human pluripotent stem cells via a neuromesodermal progenitor intermediate

11:35 – 12:05 Anna Philpott (Cambridge): Using developmental mechanisms to drive differentiation of neuroblastoma

12:05 – 12:20 Combined discussion

12:20 – 13:20 Lunch with Posters

Session 5: Targeted & combination therapy II

Chair: Bengt Hallberg (Gothenburg)

Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre Paediatrics Programme Lecture:

13:20 – 13:50 Sharon Diskin (Philadelphia): A multi-omic surfaceome study identifies DLK1 as a candidate oncoprotein and immunotherapeutic target in neuroblastoma

13:50 – 14:05 Donne Nile (Glasgow): Manipulation of cancer cell metabolism for neuroblastoma combination therapy with targeted radiotherapy

14:05 – 14:35 Suzanne Turner (Cambridge): CRISPR-dCas9 screens to identify resistance mechanisms to ALK in neuroblastoma

14:35 – 14:50 Combined discussion

14:50 – 15:20 Tea with Posters

15:20 – 15:30 Poster prizes

Session 6: Targeted & combination therapy III

Chair: John Lunec (Newcastle)

15:30 – 16:00 Per Kogner (Karolinska): The PPM1D encoded WIP1 phosphatase is an oncogene significant for cancer development and tumour progression and a druggable therapy target in neuroblastoma and medulloblastoma. A hint as to how aggressive childhood cancer manages with wild-type p53

16:00 – 16:15 Deb Tweddle (Newcastle): Preclinical assessment of MDM2/p53, ALK and MEK inhibitor combinations in neuroblastoma

16:15 – 16:30 Sally George (ICR, Sutton): A CRISPR-Cas9 genomic editing and compound screening approach identifies therapeutic vulnerabilities in the DNA damage response for the treatment of ATRX mutant neuroblastoma

16:30 – 16:45 Miriam Rosenberg (Jerusalem): Expression- and immune-profiling of neuroblastoma-associated Opsoclonus Myoclonus Ataxia Syndrome (OMAS) to identify features of auto- and tumour-immunity

16:45 – 17:00 Combined discussion

17:00 Close

SFI Technology Innovation Development Award

An interesting idea or research question is always motivational. But it is a sketch till you get means to answer them. We, scientists, have to shape them into a proposal showing that we know limitations and have plans B & C if things go differently to planned. Then we apply for funding here and there… and many many times. The number of rejections makes us stronger – I hope. But one day, the idea may hit it right. So, it has happened to me recently and this SFI Award brings so needed fuel to study neuroblastoma.

The development and approval of new oncology drugs are very slow processes. This is mainly due to the big differences in the physiology of cancer cells grown on plastic and in the native microenvironment. Tissue engineering of tumour systems has a great potential to bridge this gap. This Award will help to advance our 3D tissue-engineered of neuroblastoma, that can be used in testing new drugs and new combinations of existing drugs.

Neuroblastoma cells grown in 3D

In particular, we will adapt the 3D model to screen different immunotherapies. This treatment option is very attractive both for adults and children because of its specificity and reduced side effects compared to chemotherapy, the current standard of care.

This Award will help my team to get a better understanding how neuroblastoma cells interact with the body environment, particularly with the immune system and how we can use the knowledge to develop new treatments and improve the patient outlook.