Yep, we are living in challenging and extraordinary times. The COVID19 changes and dictates rules, but training of future health professionals is going on.
Within a fantastic RCSI summer training programme for medical students, our team ran essential practicals on the isolation of genetic material and the use of polymerase chain reaction, known as PCR, to detect differences in normal and modified genomic DNA.
Polymerase Chain Reaction, or simply PCR, was conceived and validated by biochemist Kary Mullis in 1983. This discovery revolutionised many scientific fields that dealt with genetic material and was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993. PCR allows rapid generation of small identical fragments of DNA. The fragments can be visualised, their size and number can be calculated. It has become a standard procedure in molecular biology and pathobiology screening. The COVID19 PCR test is actually an advanced modification of Mullis’ invention.
All students successfully set up individual PCRs to our great satisfaction, and the results are presented at the right bottom corner.
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.
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
“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
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 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.
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!
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
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.
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.
Across countries and continents, we are celebrating International Childhood Cancer Day (ICCD).We do it to raise awareness tto raise awareness of childhood cancer, its consequences for children and their parents and make it as a priority for Governments and research.
My team research is focused on neuroblastoma biology. This is a solid tumour of undeveloped nerves. Some forms of neuroblastoma spread quickly and become very aggressive and challenging to treat. We are searching for the weaknesses that can be targeted with drugs.
A guessing game was a part of the event. Everyone had a chance to guess how many marshmallows fitted in the cell culture flask T75. The guesses ranged from as low as 95 to as high as 500. Fortunately, one of the participants gave an absolutely correct answer. Micheal Flood put on 173 and won. Her fantastic ability to guess is incredible! Congratulations!!! Well done to all!
We raised 698.91 Euros for childhood cancer research! We thank everyone who came along and supported the Hot Chocolate Morning & the International Childhood Cancer Day 2019!
Many special thanks go to Amorino for delicious Italian hot chocolate & tasty bites contributors!
Reading my posts, it looks like I am more enjoying the cultural part and almost forgot the main reason I crossed the Atlantic with the Fulbright wings.
The first month in the lab was more a warming up. Where is my desk? Where is the cell culture rooms? How do they run it? How different is it? So, many microscopes – am I capable of imaging? And so on and so forth…
My typical day starts at 8-8.30 am and finishes once all is done. It may be 6pm or 10pm. Once the experiment is set up, I have to monitor cells every 24 hours for 5-7 days with no weekends or days off. The monitoring includes imaging. Lots of imaging. Every condition has 20-30 single cells to follow up. Each cell gets its own GPS tag manually to be able to image exactly the same cell as it grows and becomes a group of hundreds by multiplication. For example, I am running 8 different cell lines in 3 experimental conditions. So, 20-30 cells per all 24 combinations give us 480-720 individual cells to follow up. The imaging takes ~5 hours every day. After 5 days, I will have 2400 – 3600 pics of cells to analyse. It will be fun! I may need lots of Guinness to fly through that numbers.
At the next step, I will select some of the conditions for video recording to trace cell fate from a single neuroblastoma cell to a metastatic niche consisting of hundreds of them. This video will show me how it all happens minute after minute.
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.
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)