Every September, we celebrate Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. This is a great opportunity to raise awareness about childhood cancer. Unfortunately, kids get cancer, too. While much research has been done to understand how cancer develops in adults, we still know very little about what exactly leads to cancer in children.
We are the Cancer BioEngineering Group led by Dr Olga Piskareva at the RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences. Our research focuses on neuroblastoma, an aggressive childhood cancer of immature nerves. The group has 7 PhD students developing research projects around neuroblastoma biology. One postgraduate student successfully defended her work and was awarded a PhD last month.
We are a dynamic group proud to be engaged in research, science communication and patient involvement. We do that through different initiatives. Throughout September, we will share many of them and invite you to keep following us on social media.
Our projects address topics related to neuroblastoma microenvironment, cell interactions, tumour resistance and the development of new therapies. To do that, we use 3D in vitro models, identify immunotherapeutic targets and evaluate extracellular vesicles.
We are always happy to answer questions and interact with the public. Follow us on our social media channels and read our blog to learn more about us and our research.
We are running a fundraising event, “A knit-a-thon,” on the 19th of September. Stay tuned!
Thanks for reading, and we go ahead with neuroblastoma research!
As our festive season is around the corner, I decided to look at the delicious cuisine that all Asians must-have on this special occasion. “I’d like to share one of the most well-known South Asian classic recipes, Biryani,” which is especially famous in Pakistan. We enjoy it at weddings and festivals. It is a must-have dish when we invite guests to our place.
The aroma of biryani in abroad always reminds me of special times and joy in Pakistan. The nicest part about biryani is sharing it with family and friends. My grandmother passed down the family recipe for biryani to my mother, and I’m fortunate that I learned to make it from her.
1/2 kg of lamb or chicken
1 cup of cooking oil
1 tbs. Warmed spices
4 Fried Onions
1 tbsp. ginger-garlic paste
1/2 cup of yoghurt
1 tsp. Lemon juice
4-6 Green chillies
1 tbsp. red chilli powder
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 kg of Basmati rice
Take a stainless-steel pot, add a half cup of oil, and heat it over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 10–15 minutes. Add the ginger-garlic paste and cook it until everything turns golden brown. It almost seems like it’s going to burn, but this is okay.
Add lamb or chicken along with all other ingredients except saffron, lemon, and rice. Cook uncovered, stirring constantly, until the tomatoes are soft. Lower the heat to low. Add a half cup of water. Mix it well and simmer it until the meat becomes soft and tender. And this will be your
Meanwhile, boil the rice in another large pot and bring 4 quarts of water to a boil with 2 tablespoons of salt. Add washed basmati rice to boiling water. Boil it for 4 minutes, and then Drain it in a colander.
Mix lemon juice and saffron.
Gently Layer the basmati rice on top of the khurma. Sprinkle the saffron-lemon mixture over the rice. Cover the pot tightly and simmer it for 12–15 minutes or until the rice is tender. When it’s finished, give it a couple good stirs to spread the meat and spices. It does not have to be perfectly even.
Eight weeks ago, my journey into the intricate world of neuroblastoma began as I embarked on a remarkable research experience with the Cancer Bioengineering Group at RCSI. Guided by Dr. Olga Piskareva and supported by RCSI Research Summer School, this experience would transform my perspective on scientific exploration forever.
On my first day in the lab, excitement and nervousness mingled within me. But as I stepped into the bustling lab space, I was greeted with warm smiles and a sense of camaraderie among the researchers. The Cancer Bioengineering Group was known for its collaborative spirit, and it didn’t take long for me to feel like a valued member of the team.
The research work was a perfect blend of diversity and fascination, encompassing both desk assignments and hands-on lab experiments. The highlight of it all was the chance to work with the cutting-edge 3D bio-printing machine, Rastrum. Witnessing the process of 3D bio-printing and using it to seed the Kelly cell line in various matrices left me in awe of the potential this technology held for future cancer therapies.
Yet, this journey extended beyond the realm of research. It was about the people – the passionate researchers who inspired and supported one another, the dedicated support staff who kept the lab running smoothly, and most notably, Dr. Olga Piskareva and Alysia Scott. They were more than mentors; they became friends and confidants, guiding me through challenges with unwavering support and celebrating our achievements as a team.
As the eight weeks drew to a close, I couldn’t help but reflect on the immense growth I had experienced professionally and personally. The cancer bioengineering field has unveiled the possibilities of using engineering principles to combat a disease that has touched countless lives worldwide.
This journey instilled in me a profound sense of purpose – a drive to contribute to the fight against neuroblastoma and other devastating illnesses. With a heart full of gratitude, I bid farewell to the Cancer Bioengineering Group at RCSI, knowing that the friendships forged and the knowledge gained would forever shape my future endeavours in the world of cancer research.
In the end, it wasn’t merely an eight-week stint; it was a transformational odyssey that solidified my passion for scientific discovery and my determination to make a difference in the lives of those affected by cancer. And for that, I will be eternally grateful.
Written by Mohammad Alabdulrahman, MED Class of 2026
What feels like ages ago now, my friend had asked me to bake the cake for her wedding. Sounds like a big ask at first. But I managed to talk myself off the ledge I climbed onto with the face every person pulled that I told of this plan. Simply by remembering that she is fully aware of who I am and never wanted a classic wedding cake but rather a little something to remind her of the good old days when we’d bake together. Her, following the recipe to a t and me, doing my darndest to find a way to make it our own, have a little fun with it and usually ending up making the cake a little worse than it would have been had I just stayed out of it. After plenty of back and forth, I decided on Fanta cake. With the wedding in the height of the strawberry season, what better than a sponge base with a little cornucopia of strawberries perched atop a vanilla cream dream? But the height of strawberry season also means scorching summer… It was a scorching hot day, with the sun beaming down mercilessly. As I meticulously assembled the cake, whispers of doubt crept in. Would the cream layer melt and cause the cake to run off in the heat?
But hey, the best part of this cake is the base, anyway. So I shoved away the doubts and got on with it: In a mixing bowl, I beat 4 eggs, 250g sugar and a pack of vanilla sugar until they reached a fluffy consistency. Then added 125ml of oil and 150ml of Fanta, creating a harmonious blend. Gradually, I mixed in 250ml of flour and 3 tsp of baking powder until all ingredients were well incorporated.
While that baked at 180°C for not quite 25 mins on a well-greased tray I started worrying about the problem child: the cream mixture. This is a funny one not just because it made me worry on the day, but it was also the reason I couldn’t really test bake here in Dublin because you can’t buy ‘schmand’ over here. I have since learned that schmand is simply sour cream with 20% instead of 10% fat and that crème fraiche is the same thing with 30% fat. So I could have saved myself a headache had I just mixed sour cream and crème fraiche and tested baking over here rather than the day before in a rush… anyway, I mixed together combine 600 ml of cream, 400 ml of sour cream, 2 packets of vanilla sugar, and 2 packets of dr oetker vanilla paradise cream, a no boil vanilla pudding. And only when the cake is cold, this gets spread all over it. Mine was still lukewarm, but it worked still.
And finally, don’t underestimate how long it takes to wash and arrange the strawberries. And how many do you need. The recipe says 1.5kg. But mine were so big that I needed to run back to the shops that morning to get more, even though I had more than 1.5kg of good strawberries left.. But I made it. Everything seemed doable yet. That’s when things turned tits up. The cake glaze didn’t work for me. First, it didn’t want to solidify, and then it just kept running off the cake. When spreading the vanilla cream, I tried to make a little barrier around the outside of the cake. And at first, that worked well enough. But the strawberries were so high that I needed to fill in more and more cake glaze that just kept seeping off the cake onto the counter and away. But that was going to have to be a tomorrow problem.
Quickly dressed friends already showed up to take me to the wedding. In an instant of sound thinking, I grabbed a spare tray and some ice packs to keep the cake cool on a scorching day and felt all the better for it when everyone else was overheating and with the cake on my lap, my thighs were positively frozen.
It even survived the ceremony in the car before we arrived at the venue, where it was finally placed in a fridge again before everyone got to try it and comment.
I think that may have been the first cake I ever made that no one told me how I could have improved on it after they tried it. Everyone seemed delighted, the strawberries were really juicy and flavourful, and even people who didn’t know I made the cake but thought it was part of the catering complimented it. Not sure that’s what my friend had in mind when tasking me with the cake, but she seemed delighted even though I didn’t deliver one of my classic disasters. Maybe there’s a point to recipes after all.
My best friend turned 30 over the weekend, and I decided to surprise her by coming to her party in Palermo 🥰
While I was in Palermo, I asked my grandmother to cook for me one of my favourite dishes: pasta alla norma. Who knew that I would be writing a blog post about it during my back flight to Dublin?!
It is typical Sicilian pasta that reminds me of my childhood summer that I used to spend with my relatives in our sea house. ☺️Those months of holidays were really packed with activities: morning at the beach, lunch at home, a quick nap, and a play date with friends until my mom came home from work (good times 😂). For lunch, my grandmother used to make me pasta alla norma, which I ate sitting on a low wall on the patio. I loved that moment, and I’m sure you will love this delicious pasta 😊
Sunflower and olive oil
Grated cheese (we use a typical cheese named ricotta salata, but it is possible to use parmigiano as well)
Step 1: Rinse the aubergine and pat dry with kitchen paper. Then, chop them into cubes of small sizes.
Step 2: Drizzle a splash of sunflower oil into a large frying pan and heat it. Once hot, add the aubergines in a single layer and fry until softened and golden -stirring occasionally.
Step 3: Place the fried aubergine in a single layer on a kitchen towel to drain the oil. In this way, the aubergine will be crunchy. 😋
Step 4: Add a splash of olive oil to a pan or pot, and when the oil is warm, add the tomato sauce. Add the salt and leave to cook on low heat for a few minutes.
Step 5: Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until “al dente”, which means that it should be soft enough to eat but still have a bit of bite and firmness to it.
Step 6: Drain the pasta and place it again in the pot. Then, add the tomato sauce and the aubergine and toss well.
Step 7: Divide between bowls, grate over the cheese and finish with the basil scattered on top.
We all collect trophies and tokens to bring home during holidays. So, do I. Teas and spices are a zeal for me. For Christmas 2022, we stayed in Lanzarote, and I was determined to find something special in this part of Spain: a taste, a spice or a dish. With a careful touch by César Manrique’s vision, the volcano-shaped countryside inspires and recharges.
The time was festive, prompting me to make a featured dish. It would have been a roasted Turkey or Ham in Dublin, but what could I do on holidays? I came very quickly to an idea to cook Paella in our self-catering house. I tasted it several times but have yet to cook it myself. Why not? Although Paella is widely recognised as one of the most popular and renowned Spanish dishes, it’s important to note that the term “paella” (or more accurately, “la paella”) actually refers to the cooking pan used to prepare the dish rather than the dish itself.
Ingredients, including a Paella spices’ mix sachet, were easy to buy in the supermarket. All I needed was a recipe. Indeed, it is not a problem nowadays – just Google it! So, I cooked a Seafood Paella for our family Christmas Dinner. Yummy!
In February 2023, I attended a conference in Barcelona and chatted with my Spanish colleagues about Paella over lunch. What was a big surprise for me is that the authentic version has chicken but not seafood. Spanish still debate, indeed, how faithful Paella should taste. Modern Paella certainly, has many variations. For example, peas and chorizo. Having only chicken makes Paella close to Plov, Pilaf or Pilau – an Asian dish with rice, vegetables, spices and meat, which I do often anyway. This is one of my family’s favourite dishes. Now, I can do it a Spanish style. So, here is a chicken Paella recipe with optional ingredients for every taste. Enjoy!
Step 1: Cut chicken is small pieces, grate carrots, and chop onions.
Step 2: Heat the olive oil in a large wok or casserole pot. Add the chicken and cook for 20-25 min.
Step 3: Add the chopped onion and grated carrots and soften for 5 mins.
Step 4: Add the smoked paprika, thyme and paella rice, and stir for 1-2 min.
Step 5: Add 3 glasses of water [so water covers rise excessively]. Season and cook, covered, for about 15 mins, stirring now and again until the rice is almost tender and still surrounded with some liquid.
Optional: A casserole pan is handy for chicken Paella as the chicken needs more space and longer cooking time than e.g. seafood. Chopped tomatoes [200g] can be added in step 4. Chicken can be replaced with the seafood mix [400g] but should be added when rice is cooked. Then rice should be cooked in chicken broth (750-800 ml). Chorizo can be added in Step 5. Squeeze over the lemon juice, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with the lemon wedges.
For a short month, we really made the most of February in the Cancer Bioengineering Group. We attended not one, but two conferences both outside of Dublin, with presentations from every member of the group and more great memories made.
At the end of 2022, I was lucky enough to be sent on a 3-month research secondment to the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) in Barcelona, so I was delighted to return in February for the Transdisciplinary Approaches in Neuroblastoma Therapy symposium. I got to present my work from my secondment in “Flash-poster” style, alongside other group members Ciara, Lin & Alysia. Ellen and Ronja also did a great job presenting a more extended cut of their research, and we got to see team lead Olga give a round-up of our group’s work as a whole.
Outside of the conference schedule, I was tasked with the role of Tour Guide because of my familiarity with the beautiful city of Barcelona. I led a group of 20+ researchers to a small bar in the Gothic Quarter for some well-deserved refreshments after a day of conferencing, brought my team to my favourite tapas restaurant for lunch (I still dream of the croquetas) and went on a lovely walk up Montjuic Hill to take in the views of Barcelona and reminisce on the 3 months I had spent there.
It felt as though the Ryanair flight had just touched down in Dublin when we started preparing for another conference – the Irish Association for Cancer Research (IACR) meeting, taking place in Athlone. With great memories from IACR 2022 in Cork, I prepared for the conference with great excitement – looking forward to both interesting science talks, and good craic with the gang of RCSI researchers attending the conference. I had a poster presentation for this, again focussing on the work I carried out on secondment in IBEC as well as some work at home in RCSI. I enjoyed my chats with the poster judges who gave some good insights on the work. Ellen and Lin had oral presentations at the conference so again I got to resume my role as the group Twitter mom, taking pictures and drafting tweets while the girls showcased their great research.
Each day when the conference was drawn to a close we set our sights on having a bit of fun with the other attendees. We enjoyed a pint of Guinness and some Trad music in the oldest bar in Ireland – Sean’s bar (they had the certificate to prove this). We made friends from outside RCSI including researchers from Queens University Belfast and Sales Representatives from various lab supply companies, had a good dance in the residents’ bar of our hotel and took over the dancefloor of a small local club. The gala dinner was lovely as always, and I’ll forever have fond memories of my lab group playing “Heads Up” to entertain ourselves in between courses. Finally, a highlight for me was being given a Highly Commended Poster Award at the dinner, such a nice acknowledgement to receive for my work and a lovely way to wrap up the last conference of my PhD.
Moving to a new country could be a challenge, an opportunity, or perhaps both. It involves stepping outside of your comfort zone, but that is where growth happens.
The most exciting opportunity of 2022 was my joining Dr Olga’s Lab as an MSc student. Welcome to the Research world full of uncertainty! Each day comes with a fresh set of surprises! Which is not uncommon in a lab environment. Sometimes things do not turn out the way we plan. But I am confident that every surprise will be worth it. My project contributes to the big ambition of Dr Olga’s team to develop an anti-cancer vaccine for children with neuroblastoma. It spans one year, which is rather short, but it gives me a fair impression of what a PhD journey might look like. I am already two months in, setting up my experiments, troubleshooting protocols and learning new things daily. Nevertheless, I enjoy that our team is outgoing, and I am eternally thankful to the whole team for their tremendous support and making me feel like I belong.
Outside of academics, I made a few adjustments. I got the chance to become acquainted with a new housing market, banking system, and visa administration as a non-Irish citizen. It seems simple, not really!
I also enjoy challenging my long-held beliefs. For instance, the after-work hangout and drinks is an intriguing example of a cultural difference I’ve noticed here. In Portugal, I used to enjoy my lab breaks with some pastel de nata with black coffee, but now I prefer a cup of butter h0t chocolate, which is everywhere.
Hi, this is Lin, it’s my second year living in Dublin and the second Chinese New Year I celebrated here. I love Dublin not only because it is the country I’ve spent more time in than any other country besides China but also because it can support Chinese traditional culture to the greatest extent.
Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) is China’s biggest extravaganza. In 2023 we celebrated it on 22nd February. According to the Chinese calendar, the world enters the Year of the Rabbit. I felt the Chinese New Year everywhere in Dublin.
Chinese New Year’s Eve is an important night for Chinese families, like Christmas Eve for the Irish. I didn’t go back to China, but I was with my Chinese friends in Dublin and celebrated together on that day. We put up spring couples and paper cutouts in our apartment, ordered some traditional Chinese food, and made some dumplings. We stayed home, stayed up late, and said goodbye to the old year. We did every vital ritual as we did at home.
In town, people also celebrated the Chinese New Year. Most notably, Good World Chinese Restaurant, my favourite Chinese restaurant in Dublin, has always contributed greatly to promoting Chinese culture. They received the Chinese Intangible Culture Heritage title from UNESCO for having one of the most traditionally prepared dim sums. On the day of Chinese New Year, they had the lion dance and worshipped the Gods of wealth. They think these vital rituals can bring people luck and wealth.
My Irish friends said “Happy Chinese New Year” to me with warmth and friendliness on Chinese New Year. They respect not only Chinese New Year but also any Chinese culture. Their kindness makes me feel at home.
I love my friends, and I love everything in Dublin!