One Day of the Life as a Researcher: PhD student

A lot has changed for me since I began my research journey in RCSI, as I transitioned from being an undergraduate placement student to a PhD candidate, however the biggest change has been adjusting to doing a lab-based PhD during a pandemic! 

We wear red coats when looking after our rather large family of neuroblastoma cells, which happily grow inside the 37°C incubator. White coats are for most other lab work, such as analysing proteins by gel electrophoresis and Western blotting. And of course, the newest lab accessory – the facemask.

These days my work hours are shared between the labs in RCSI and my family home. While my bench space and office space used to be separated by just a few steps, there is now a 30+ minute bus journey between them. It has certainly put my planning skills to the test as now when I walk into the lab I need to be sure of what I am planning to do, and that I can complete the task in my pre-booked lab time slot. 

I appreciate my time in the labs much more now that I spend so much time at home. Whether I am culturing neuroblastoma cells, analyzing proteins or genes by Western blots or PCRs, I enjoy immersing myself in the work knowing that my time on the bench is limited. 

The main perk is that now when I am doing computer work – analyzing results, writing reviews, preparing presentations, using online software – I can do it from the comfort of my box-room-office, often very cosy in a blanket as I do it. While my work-from-home desk space is slightly more spacious than my desk in the now-closed “Write-up Room 2”, I do miss the chats and laughs that come with working in a shared office.

One thing’s for sure though, my two dogs very much enjoy the days that I work from home!

Catherine Murphy, Neuroblastoma UK funded PhD student

One Day of the Life as a Researcher: summer undergraduate student

This summer I worked under Dr Piskareva supervision in the remote research program. My original plans for a lab experience were put down by COVID. My ultimate goal was to write the review article on the potential uses of retinoic acid in neuroblastoma research.

Nadiya Bayeva

Before starting the project, I didn’t have any specific expectations. While I always had fun picking the primary articles apart and summarising the gathered data during my undergrad and med school, I didn’t believe that this experience would be the special one. And I kept thinking so as I was collecting the information from the numerous data on cell cultures. And as I was looking at the mice models studies. And clinical trials.

Then I started to write my introduction, and so researched the information on the neuroblastoma prognosis, contemporary treatment protocol and outcomes. And suddenly I saw my project in the new light. I was used to regarding the clinical trials outcomes as simple statistics, but this time no desensitization could shield me. Yes, 60% of the patients in the high-risk group die in 5 years after diagnosis, and yes, 90% of those patients are children less than 5 years old. And there is nothing that we could currently do to save those children.

On the other hand, this realisation brought meaning to my work. This time, I was not doing a PubMed search to get a good mark or CV reference. Instead, I was looking for the possible treatment of the disease. My review on the current knowledge about retinoic acid will let the other primary researchers target the most promising drug for future experiments and, eventually, create a novel and effective therapy to help those children.

And isn’t it what we are all striving for in medical research?

One Day of the Life as a Researcher: PhD student

If I was to write this 6 months ago, my life as a researcher would be very different. 

Here is a little snippet of my ‘new normal’ day getting back into the lab as a 2nd year PhD student in the Cancer Bio-Engineering group post-lockdown. 

Although, in general the day-to-day life as a scientist can vary massively. So I would like to say I already had a flexible schedule pre-pandemic. This made adapting to the world of our ‘new normal’ a little easier. 

I commute to RCSI by Luas. I spend the morning carrying out my essential lab work in our new environment of 2-metre social distancing and face masks. Lunch is a little lonely these days with single tables in the previous busy 1784 restaurant. Although, RCSI’s campus is in the heart of Stephens green making it a fantastic location to stroll to the park for a coffee in between experimental incubation times. Great for catching the last of the summer sunshine! When all lab work is finished I come home to my new makeshift WFH office where I have a new furry work colleague to help me get through the evening data analysis and reading. 

The research consists of days of highs and lows. Behind all the failures come successes making the hard work all worthwhile! 

Ciara Gallagher, the IRC funded PhD student

One Day of the Life as a Researcher: Team Lead

During September Cancer BioEngineering group will share our experience of being researchers individually and as a group. We are a relatively young research group – our birthday is September 1st 2019. We are 1 year old! As a team lead I will start this challenge.

Our first-year journey was fascinating. We did research, scientific meetings, fundraising, trained undergraduate students, celebrated birthdays and success, received rejections of grants and papers, graduated an MSc by Research (RCSI) and BSc (TUD), said ‘Goodbye’ to team members and will welcome new in October.

Home office: my day starts here at 9 am and ends when job is done.

A typical day of my life as a researcher has changed since the COVID started to shape our lives. All activities are done remotely: team supervision, project management, troubleshooting, lab meetings and so on. Indeed, grant and paper writing has always been run remotely. No change here.

I configured our box room into a home office, upgraded the lights to brighten the north-facing room, surrounded myself with pics of loved ones, started to use active time planning via Teams, a proper headset for all my remote meetings and glasses for reading and typing, split the PC screen in two with a hope to double my effectiveness at least. 🙂

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Today marks the start of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Three girls fountain in Mainz Germany

I like this photo of a lovely fountain capturing 3 girls under umbrellas (Drei-Mädchen-Brunnen) in Ballplatz Mainz. It is about a happy childhood; every child deserves a happy childhood. So, I select it again to support #ChildhoodCancerAwarnessMonth.

Childhood cancer is an umbrella term for many other types of this disease. This month is a big channel to support and learn more about kids with cancer, their loving families, the doctors and caregivers who looking after them and treating them, the young survivors of cancer and those kids and teens who lost their battle, and the scientists who working hard to find a way to stop childhood cancer.

When it comes to a disease, we have to acknowledge that children are not little adults. They are constantly developing. So their diseases have a different way to progress and respond to treatment. This is very true for childhood cancers. For example, children diagnosed with neuroblastoma before a 1.5 years old mark will do better than older children.

Every 100th cancer patient is a child. Cancer is the 2nd most common cause of death among children after accidents. 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)

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

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.

Every child deserves a happy childhood

Three girls fountain in Mainz Germany

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.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month!

Today marks the start of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Three girls fountain in Mainz Germany 

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)

Please see a short video The Childhood Cancer Ripple Effect created by St. Baldrick’s Foundation.