The Race That Nearly Wasn’t – 20K

On April, 30th 2020, the 20K virtual race organized by Breakthrough Cancer Research came to an end. 1247 people participated and 496 completed this challenge. Together, we raised online over €50,000 to support their life-saving cancer research programmes.

As a scientist myself, I know that behind many current default living settings is intensive research in the past. IT would have never advanced if at some stage no discoveries in physics, chemistry have happened. We would have never been able to fight bacteria infection of no antibiotic was discovered. What about discovering of insulin? This list can go on and on… Just imagine if no research happens now. How we could cope with the current coronavirus pandemic? How we could help many people with cancer to have a healthier and longer life?

Breakthrough Cancer Research united many sports professionals and enthusiasts to build up a spirited community to support vital cancer research during the COVID-19 restrictions. I heard about this race by chance – my PhD student signed up to do it. When I read it, I thought it sounds achievable to complete 20K within a month. One small step at a time. It was a slow process. But it has transformed me. 

At the finish line, I became addicted to my steady jogging within the allowed 2K distance every day. I have to confess that it is incredibly challenging for me to wake up, tie my sport shoelaces and go for a jog. My body wants a smooth transition from sleep to the active state, particularly when you are at home every day! This was normality in the past. 

What did I discover going through this transformation? My body knows better its needs. Every morning I start it slowly with just an intensive walk. In 2-3 minutes, my body requests more fresh air in my lungs and higher endorphin levels in my blood. I can’t resist and start jogging. 🙂

Why mornings one may ask? I have tried different times during the day. My body has decided on morning hours even it is challenging… No option to negotiate.

Break Through Cancer Research are launching 40K and 60K May race. Could it be your chance for a transformation? Sign up today at: https://yourvirtualrace.com/theracethatnearlywasnt/

Times of tough restrictions

In the time of tough restrictions when you and your team are cocooning and working remotely, we can stay together thanks to many PC and mobile apps. We tried different platforms starting with Skype and WhatsUp and advancing to MS Teams and Zoom. The bottom line: we want to see everyone simultaneously! It is essential. As expected not every app gives you that option in a standard free package.

After 4 weeks, everyone in a spiritual writing mode. I would not be surprised to see the exponential growth of literature review articles in the coming months. I hope to get one from each team member. Sure that the quality of introduction/background sections in PhD Theses will also happen!

Actually, it is possible to play games remotely, too. What great fun!

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!

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