Since I joined neuroblastoma research, I have been puzzled by the fact that half of the children with neuroblastoma have the disease spread at the time of diagnosis. It is still a puzzle whether cells spread and primary tumour growth happen simultaneously or more adventurous cancer cells escape the primary tumour location later.
At a cancer conference, I met Prof Ewald who studies this process in breast cancer. I was fascinated by the approach and started to look for opportunities to join his lab. To tell the truth, very few exist for mid-stage career scientists! One of them is the Fulbright program.
One day, I opened my email saying that I received a Fulbright-HRB Health Impact Scholar Award to travel to Johns Hopkins University and adapt their 3D models to learn how neuroblastoma spreads. It was a life-changing experience both personally and professionally. The amount of experimental data collected over 4 months of work did not fit a 1TB memory stick! Indeed, this short journey was just a start of a new research inquiry.
On my return home, the greatest task that remained was to make sense of every single experiment. Cian Gavin took over and spent almost a year systematising, characterising it, and placing it into a context. It was meticulous work with very little known about invasion strategies in neuroblastoma. Now, we are happy to share our findings published on Cancers.
Where do we go now? Well, our next step is to understand the cellular players behind neuroblastoma invasion and how we can target them to stop neuroblastoma spread. It won’t be a short and sweet journey, but we are ready for it!
This fantastic and rewarding work was supported by Fulbright Commission Ireland, National Children’s Research Centre, Health Research Board, Science Foundation Ireland, the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute (Prof Ewald), Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for the COG Childhood Cancer Repository (Prof Reynolds) and the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute (Prof Reynolds).
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.
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.
Our team is expanding – we are welcome our new PhD student Ellen King!Her project will add another dimension to neuroblastoma research. She will look into potential targets on the surface of neuroblastoma cells resistant to therapy and investigate how we can strengthen the patient immune systemresponse.
Like everyone, my current workspace looks very different from what it normally looks like. I have just joined the Cancer Bioengineering Group as a PhD student in the midst of the pandemic. Certain moments like induction day or meeting my new lab mates, will all be done virtually due to the pandemic. Luckily, I have spent the last year working as a research assistant at RCSI and this has taken away all the stresses of finding my way around a new campus and indeed making friends. Without a doubt, the transition is and will be a strange one but the excitement and enthusiasm haven’t gone anywhere!
Recently, my days as a researcher have been spent at my lovely, newly-built (with the help of IKEA instructions) home desk. And as the picture I have standing proudly beside my laptop says, there really is no place like home. I feel very lucky to be able to safely work from home and continue my research while so many people are now without jobs or are risking their lives to keep people safe during the pandemic.
Most days I wake up early and go for a run along the lovely canal beside my house. This is a great way to wake up my brain and is also great preparation for our virtual VHI mini-marathon on the 7th of October 2020 in honour of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. I start work at around 9am, which at the moment is mostly research, reading papers and writing a literature review in preparation for my return to the lab soon. I miss the experimental side of my research and am really excited to start this new exciting project.
You may wonder whether I re-submit the same. the third time? Actually, our team has 3 ongoing PhD students and one starting from October. So, here we are. Three identical titles so far but different journeys. Today, it is Tom’s turn to tell his story.
Three years I ago I decided to try my hand at some cancer research and quit my job as a medical scientist in a diagnostic lab. I am now in my third year of a PhD and I am certain I made the right choice. It was a challenging transition from working in an environment with a lot of automation and standard operating procedures to one where you have to figure out everything for yourself! However, I think that that learning experience has allowed me to adjust quite well to all of the COVID-19 related upheaval.
Pre-pandemic you could saunter between your office and the lab as often as you pleased, you had a choice of at least four different places to go for coffee on campus and you could squeeze into a packed lift to avoid the stairs to the lab. Now a day in the lab is quite different. We have to book lab space online, social distance from our colleagues, frequent hand washing and wear a mask at all times.
These days I plan all my lab work and book lab bench space the week before. On a typical day I split my time between the lab and working from home. I am quite fortunate that my commute is only a 6 minute walk through Stephens Green, which is only 5 minutes longer than the walk from the lab to my old office.
Working through a pandemic is certainly challenging however I do appreciate my time in the lab much more now and I feel like I am much more productive when access to the lab is limited.
During this exercise of searching and reading research papers, we found that researchers in neuroblastoma are looking for alternatives of traditional 2D culture. It is may be slow at the moment but the interest is there.
3D neuroblastoma models worked well in both validating known chemotherapies and screening new. The concepts and materials that were initially developed for bone or tissue regeneration can be used to a miniature model of neuroblastoma.
3D tissue-engineered models can accelerate drug discovery and development, reducing the use of animals in preclinical studies.
Here we go. Our first attempt to bio print neuroblastoma cells using Rastrum technology.
A compact pink oven-like device with a user-friendly interface and ‘magical’ disperse of cells and 3D environments. We bioprinted two types of neuroblastoma cells. One-easily forming clusters or tight groups and the other with high individualism in two types of homes: friendly and unfriendly. ‘Friendly’ homes have lots of clues to help cells to attach and grow. ‘Unfriendly’ homes have just a 3D niche aka house without furniture. Let’s see which homes cells like most.