Launching Neuroblastoma UK funded project

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 Murphy, a new PhD candidate funded by Neuroblastoma UK

In this project, we will engineer a novel experimental model to study the biology and treatment of neuroblastoma. We will build upon our recently published model where we used collagen-based scaffolds and neuroblastoma cells to test their response to chemo drugs.

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.

SFI Technology Innovation Development Award

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.

Neuroblastoma cells grown in 3D

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.

Hot Chocolate Morning In Aid of ICCD2019

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.

Ciara, John, Tom, Nele and Olga

Today, we team up with Amorino to run the Hot Chocolate Morning to raise funds for Childhood cancer research charities – Children’s Medical Research Foundation/National Children’s Research Centre and the Conor Foley Neuroblastoma Cancer Research Foundation. Research advances our knowledge and helps to develop new treatments.

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!

“Please visit us in St Stephens” Green”

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.

Research Summer School 2018

Another year, another Research Summer School students. We are hosting 4 students (Jessica, Dawn, Dola, and Jeff) this year. Some of them will be medical doctors, another will do research after the graduation. For them, the 8-weeks lab placement is a window into the reality of the everyday science. How cancer cells look? How do they grow? Where do we store them? How do we know that we have identified a new drug or a new target to study further? Do researchers have a sense of humour? Do they like donuts?

Why do they wear these astronaut helmets?

We have already said Good Bye to Jessica. Dola and Dawn’s projects are coming to an end this week, while Jeff is staying till the end of August.

I am Fulbright

Now, when the Fulbright Awardees have been announced at the Official Ceremony in the US Embassy last Thursday, I am happy to say that my first challenge 2018 brought me the Award – Fulbright-HRB HealthImpact Scholar 2018.

Fulbright Commission Picture Conor McCabe Photography.

I am opening a new chapter in my life by taking this great opportunity to go to Johns Hopkins University and study how cancer cells travel to different destinations in real-time in our body. Indeed, it will be not only about the research but also about new experience meeting new people, learning a new culture and seeing things around. I am delighted and over the moon.

Past awardees organised the Dinner in Dublin Castle to welcome newbies by sharing their experiences and promoting networking. These wonderful people were celebrating their start of the US journey last Fri. Some are going off in coming days, other not till January. It is a completely different feeling not to be ranked by your academic achievements but your personality is a key. What a rewarding feeling to join the Fulbright Family. Absolutely enjoyable…

Irish Fulbright Alumni Association Dinner 2018 at Dublin Castle (Courtesy of IFAA)

Wish everyone the best of their experience and make a difference in their field of study!

A new, three-dimensional approach to cancer research

Appeared in today’s Irish Times. Lovely crafted by Dr. Vanesa Martinez

Although the discovery could be applicable in principle to any a solid tumour, Dr Piskareva’s target is neuroblastoma, a relatively common child cancer which affects a specific type of nerve cells in unborn children. “It’s quite aggressive and unfortunately there are many children who have metastasis when they are diagnosed, and this is the most challenging group to treat.”

Irish Times, 31 May 2018

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/science/a-new-three-dimensional-approach-to-cancer-research-1.3505347

How current IT advances help in research?

Here is the perfect example of the teamwork troubleshooting protein extractions. My Dream Team 2018 in action. The current information and communication technologies allow to stay connected and respond quickly.

Five minutes later in the lab: troubleshooting is the exchange of experiences!

 

A new 3D strategy to study neuroblastoma

Our body has 3 dimensions: height, width and depth. Every single part of our body grows in the same 3 dimensions. This is true for cancer cells. Researchers use different ways to study cancer cells behaviour, how they grow and spread. We grow cells in the flasks, where they change their structure and shape and become flat losing one dimension. This is a very popular approach. We also grow cells in mice, where cells keep their 3D shape and mimic their behaviour to one observed in humans.

It is well known that we need to give a different amount of drug to kill cancer cells grown in flasks and in mice. This, in turn, delays the development of new drugs. Why does it happen this way? So, the drug works only on one side of the cell when they grow on the flat surface. In contrast, in mice, drug surrounds the cancer cell habitat and attacks cells at the edge first and then getting to those at the core. So we need more drug to kill cancer cells in mice.

We decided to design a new way to grow cancer cells that recreate their growth in 3 dimensions as in the human or mice body. We used special cotton wool like sponges as a new home for cancer cells and populated them with cancer cells. At the next step, we gave cells the drug at the different amount and checked what happened.

To understand cell fitness we stained them with red and blue dyes. On the left bottom side of the image, we see an equal amount of red and blue dyes telling us that cells were healthy and fit. Cells did not get any drug. When we gave a little amount of the drug but enough to kill cells in the flask, the balance of red and blue dyes was the same telling us that nothing really happened (the image in the middle). Cells were feeling well and healthy. The right bottom image has only blue dye. In this case, cells were given the amount of drug enough to destroy cancer cells in mice or humans. The lack of red dye tells us that this time the drug worked and killed the cancer cells.

We found that the drug killed cells on sponges only at doses enough to do the same in mice.

So, we concluded the new tactic to grow cancer cells in 3D on cotton-like sponges can bridge the gap between traditional way and animal models. This new strategy to grow cells on sponges should help to understand cancer cell behaviour better and accelerate the discovery and development of new effective drugs for neuroblastoma and other cancers. This, in turn, will make the outlook for little patients better and improve their quality of life.

This work has been published in Acta Biomaterialia and presented recently at the Oral Posters Session at the 54th Irish Association for Cancer Research Conference 2018.

This study was supported by Neuroblastoma UK and National Children’s Research Centre.

You can find more at

A physiologically relevant 3D collagen-based scaffold–neuroblastoma cell system exhibits chemosensitivity similar to orthotopic xenograft models.

IACR Meeting 2018 Programme

The First Big Challenge in New Year

The first month of the new year and the first challenge. Monday is the big day for me. In the essence, my grant application was shortlisted for the interview where I have to face the challenge and prove that I worth it.

Anyone for a challenge?

The proposed application seeks to go to the US lab and gain an expertise in an interdisciplinary methodology to monitor and capture the dynamic of cancer spread (metastasis) in real time. This experimental approach would accelerate our understanding of neuroblastoma metastasis which is one of the reasons for failure in the treatment of neuroblastoma. If we know how neuroblastoma cells spread, then we can find the weaknesses in the process and create new drugs or use existing to target it.

I feel that sharing my worries with you makes me stronger. I am looking forward to this challenge with my head up and hope to feel your support at this crucial moment.