A wonderful day of knitting – Knit-A-Thon-2023 raised 913 euros. A massive thank you to everyone who stopped by and donated on the day and beyond. Every cent counts! The money was split evenly between our four chosen charities: The Conor Foley Neuroblastoma Research Foundation (CFNRF), Neuroblastoma UK (NBUK), Oscars Kids and Childhood Cancer Ireland (CCI). These charities were established and are run by parents, some of whom lost their children to cancer. They continue their children’s legacy, doing an amazing job of advocating for children with cancer and better funding for research and aftercare.
And a special thank you to Ciara’s mam Aggie for the amazing handmade raffle prizes (chromosomes, antibodies, cup holders and many more) and a Master class on the day! We thank Jenny Duffy (RCSI Events and Communications Coordinator) for her time crocheting with us and for us! Thanks to Anggie’s and Jenny’s skills, there were lots of mascots to win – and many of them collected already. We much appreciate the support from the RCSI Estates and Porters who looked after us on the day.
We are the Cancer Bioengineering Group, and September is a very special month for us as it is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Childhood cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death in children after accidents. Our group researches childhood cancer neuroblastoma, a cancer of immature nerve cells. Despite intensive multimodal treatment, as many as 1 in 5 children with aggressive neuroblastoma do not respond, and up to 50% of children that do respond experience disease recurrence with many metastatic tumours resistant to many drugs and more aggressive tumour behaviour that all too frequently results in death.
This is what we want to change! We believe that every child deserves a future, and our team of postgraduate researchers led by Dr Olga Piskareva is dedicated to strengthening our knowledge of this disease and identifying new potential ways to tackle it, as well as taking part in fundraising activities so our group and others can continue with this research.
On Tuesday, the 19th of September, we are running a Knit-A-Thon using gold and purple yarn to mark childhood cancer and neuroblastoma, respectively. Our patterns are inspired by Neuroblastoma UK and Mr Google, indeed.
On the day, RCSI 123 SSG will #GoGold in support of this cause. Please come by to see the RCSI building lit up and share your pictures on social media with the hashtag #ChildhoodCancerAwarenessMonth to raise awareness.
Every year we manage to raise an amazing 1500-2000 euros by organising a new challenge. We are eager to surpass that target this year. All donations no matter how small are appreciated at GoFundMe.
Hi there, Ciara here again, a final-year PhD student in our research group. I can’t believe September has rolled around again, meaning one thing: it’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month (CCAM). In honour of this month, I would like to tell you a little bit about the childhood cancer we study in our lab and the research that I do to one day help save children from this disease.
Neuroblastoma is an aggressive childhood cancer, with sadly only 20% of late-stage patients surviving after 5 years. Progressive disease and cancer relapse are common in neuroblastoma. This is due to standard treatment regimens not being adequate for treating high-risk patients. Current treatment also may cause a series of adverse reactions in patients. Therefore, my research focuses on developing a 3D model of high-risk neuroblastoma that models the cancer more accurately in a laboratory setting. This will act as a beneficial platform to test whether new therapies effectively fight the patients’ cancer cells, leading to better treatment options for children with neuroblastoma.
Below is a picture of how we grow these cancerous cells on our 3D model and visualise them with fluorescent stains. When we can see them like this under a microscope, we can study how they move and grow to help us understand how to treat them.
As you may know, every year, we support amazing charities by raising vital funds to keep the fight against childhood cancer going. Keep your eyes peeled on our Twitter for updates on what crazy activity we have committed to this year!!
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!
Cancer is a disease which will have an impact on most people throughout their lifetimes, and there are few things that can bring people to agreement more than wanting a cure for this disease. But despite countless years of financial investments and researchers who dedicate their careers to cancer, we still don’t have a “cure”, and it can be difficult for non-scientists to fathom why.
One key concept to understand here is that cancer is not a single disease, does not have a single cause, and therefore cannot have a single cure. The differences between neuroblastoma and breast cancer are vast. And similarly, between patients with the same cancer type (e.g. two patients with breast cancer), the differences can be equally as big. Let’s for a minute, take an analogy of a large business company. (Disclaimer, I have never studied business in my life, so please humour me). The company is run by a CEO and board of directors and has many different departments with managers and teams of workers with specific roles. Suddenly, business is declining, and the company is not sure why. For one business, maybe this is down to someone in the Communications team spreading misinformation. For another, maybe a mistake has been made in the Finance team, which has had a knock-on effect on the other departments. Maybe Human Resources have not been properly reprimanding staff who have broken protocol. With hundreds of staff working in the company, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly where the problem has arisen, which has negatively impacted the company as a whole.
Human cells aren’t so different to a company. They have a central “nucleus” tasked with controlling the functioning of the cell as a whole (Board of Directors/Management). They have proteins which relay messages inside the cell, as well as outside with other surrounding cells (Communications). They have proteins which are responsible for detecting when something goes wrong, to correct or destroy whatever is acting out of place (Human Resources). Issues within any of the “departments” in a human cell can potentially lead to cancer, and just like our business model, it can be hard to trace where the problem arose, and it is often different between two cancers.
For decades cancer was treated with chemotherapy, famous for attacking the good healthy cells as well as the bad. The research focus has now shifted towards more targeted therapies. An example of this is Herceptin therapy for breast cancer. This therapy targets a specific protein called HER2. HER2 is a team within the Communications department in breast cells. It receives communications from outside the cell, which tells the cell it’s time to grow, and relays this message to the Nucleus, which instructs proteins involved in cell growth to start this process. However, in some breast cancers, there are too many members in the HER2 team, all relaying this message to the Nucleus, resulting in too much cell growth. Herceptin is a drug which specifically targets HER2 and prevents it from relaying this message, effectively preventing the cancer cells from growing. While this can be very efficient at preventing tumour growth in HER2+ breast cancer, HER2 is not the culprit in all breast cancers. It is estimated that only 1 in 5 breast cancers have too many members in the HER2 team (Irish Cancer Society), and so targeting this will be inefficient in treating 4 out of 5 breast cancers. Meanwhile, cells of other cancers, such as liver or thyroid cancer, may not even have a HER2 team.
Hopefully, it is becoming clear why one “cure” will likely never be a reality. All cancers are different, all have different causes, and different employees breaking protocol. So, a one-size-fits-all approach simply can’t work. Instead, we need to focus on finding common company malpractices for each cancer, such as HER2 in breast cancer, generate a repertoire of different targeted treatment options depending on the various causes of cancer, and treat each patient as an individual investigation to determine what employee/protein is acting out of line to cause their cancer, so we can specifically reprimand them.
I’m Ellen, and I am a 3rd year PhD student in the Cancer Bioengineering Group. Last week I attended and presented at my first international conference, ISCT (International Society for Cell & Gene Therapy), in Paris. I spent five days in Paris with three of them at the conference where scientists, researchers and pharma professionals came from far and wide. There was a strong focus on collaboration between industry teams and academics, and it gave me a lot to think about when it comes to my own PhD and career journey as a whole.
As a soon-to-be final-year student, the next step in my career has been on my mind. Starting out, I was very sure I wanted to progress within academia and follow the “traditional” researcher route. Industry always seemed so far removed from the basic sciences, and specifically biology research roles are hard to come by in Ireland. Having the opportunity to travel to Paris and meet with such a wide range of professionals really opened my eyes to the possibility of a career in the industry. It was reassuring to see that even after leaving academia, there is a cross-over and lots of collaboration. Industry or academia? The fork in the road when it comes to this career choice is becoming lesser and lesser.
While I was in Paris, I had a lot of time to ponder the fantastic science and research that I discussed at the talks (Did you know? One adult human heart produces enough energy in one lifetime to power an 18-wheeler to the moon and back). Additionally, I could also see first-hand that the positive aspects that we associate with academia (presenting research, freedom of research topics and the conference wine receptions, of course) are also readily available as a non-academic based scientist. In fact, there is a career that has the “goodness of both”. So many academics discussed start-ups and spin-out companies developed off the back of their academic research, and there were even talks that discussed the how, what, when and where of transitioning between the two settings.
I’m so grateful that I could attend this conference. I presented my research (a project very much blended between academia and industry), got to chat to like-minded people and came home with a wealth of new knowledge. This knowledge will not only enrich my PhD project but will stand for me as my career moves from student to fully-fledged scientist. The topic of post-PhD job hunting often comes with a knot in the stomach, but seeing the exciting opportunities that are available out there has me much more excited than stressed about this next step. And now to finish this PhD so that I can take that next step 🙂
My trip became possible thanks to the Company of Biologist travel grant and support from the RCSI Department of Anatomy and Regenerative Medicine.
Hello everyone, I’m Amy! I joined the team for my TUD undergraduate research project in February, which is sadly coming to an end in the coming weeks. As my time here closes, I’m filled with mixed emotions. I am relieved and overjoyed to finish my thesis and see everything come together. However, I will certainly miss the team and working in the lab. I have learnt so much from my time here. For instance, research isn’t for the faint-hearted! It is filled with hiccups and bumps in the roads and unexpected twists and turns. This means you have to be able to make decisions and revise plans quickly. For that, I have so much respect for the whole team and anyone who chooses the path of research. I have also learnt so much about lab work and scientific writing. I was given independence throughout my work both in and out of the lab. With everyone more than willing to answer any queries I had and genuinely wanting to see me do my best.
My favourite part of this research project has been the hands-on lab work, specifically the tissue culture. I’ve been trying to perfect my assay for DNA quantification recently. This photo was taken after I’d done tons of pipetting and got a hand cramp! My results looked nice, so it was all worth it. 🙂
All in all, I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with this amazing and dedicated team. I wish them all the best with their studies and research!
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.
In September, we set ourselves the “#GoForGoldCycle2022” challenge for Childhood Cancer Awareness.
We started #GoForGoldCycle2022 at 9 am and finished at 7 pm on September 21, 2022. Each bike peddled 200km, totalling 400 km on a day.
We were delighted to see the RCSI main building glowing Gold to celebrate Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and acknowledge that every child with cancer, their heartbroken but resilient parents, siblings and family members, their friends, and all doctors, nurses and carers who go far and beyond to offer the best available treatment and support, all scientists, patient advocates and charities who work hard to improve current treatment protocols, find new drugs and request changes in the way childhood cancer are dealt with.
We closed the GoFundMe in October and counted the charity buckets. We are delighted to announce we raised a grand total of €1500! We are over the moon with this sum.
Our three chosen charities: Children’s Health Foundation Crumlin (formerly CMRF), the Conor Foley Neuroblastoma Cancer Research Foundation, and Neuroblastoma UK, each received ~ €500.
We’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who donated and contributed their cycling skills. It will make a huge difference for these charities, especially this year, paving the way to better treatment options for children with cancer.