Many Heys from New York!

Everyone, many heys from New York! I just started my pediatric residency at SUNY Downstate, Brooklyn, and I love this place! The weather is bright and shiny – I always admire it, passing by hospital windows. I live in a wonderful place; it takes just 5 minutes to get to the clinic. New York is a grand city with so many things to do – I would definitely go out on one of these weekends. Oh, wait, I’m working 24h and then catching up on my lost sleep. Well, there is always another time… if I get enough energy to muster after work.

Really, it is a lot of work, coming to a new country and starting residency, but I enjoy it. I had the best possible start – I interned in the Nursery, overseeing the treatment of neonates in their first three days of lives. And taking care of the newborns is what sold Pediatrics to me in the first place. I also love continuity of care, meaning that I will follow the same children for the next 3 years, observing their health and helping them grow. And I can attest to how wonderful the feeling is when you see an infant you knew from his first hours of life thriving and developing.

Dr. Nadiya

I like being an intern but can’t wait for the second year when I will have a pediatric oncology rotation at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, a leading world cancer for pediatric oncology treatment. Furthermore, it has teams working on treating patients with neuroblastoma and is where research and clinical trial take place. I aim to join one of the projects and continue the work that I started with Dr Olga Piskareva. She taught me to love research and inspired me to improve my skills and reach new highs. I miss my time working with Dr Piskareva and the neuroblastoma lab, both research and social parts, and I hope to see them all soon – at one of the neuroblastoma conferences. 🙂

Written by Nadiya Bayeva

A newly minted Dr. Catherine Murphy

Huge congrats to a newly minted Dr Catherine Murphy! ✨ She successfully defended her PhD work yesterday. Hard work and dedication paid off. Well done, Catherine!

We thank examiners Drs Oran Kennedy and Niamh Buckley for their time and expertise provided.

We also thank Neuroblastoma UK for their generous support!

Paris…Paris…

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.

Written by Ellen King

12 week research placement ends too soon

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. 🙂

Amy is at work!

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!

Written by Amy Dunne

So this is science..?

Had you told me before I started my PhD that I’d rushedly be writing a blog post on a bus in Bergamo, and it’s all part of my project, I certainly would have laughed and figured sure, maybe as a one-time exception if I find out something fascinating. But no, this is my second conference abroad this year, out of five in the past 4 months. My view on science and what is important to conduct good science has significantly changed since then, though. I have a ton of data from my secondment to Vilnius, but it is not all analysed yet. There are a number of decisions left to be made before my project becomes fully rounded and provides useful conclusions that I could share with people. But conferences serve another purpose. If everyone was only there to present their finished project, who would they present them to? At the current stage of my research, exchanging ideas, receiving feedback and seeing what others do helps immensely to provide perspective and both motivate me to do more and do better, inspire me to find new angles and also to relax and understand the bigger picture your project is a part, rather than getting bogged down by the day-to-day issues that so easily cloud your mind in everyday routine (as far as a PhD allows for routine…). In this way, conferences can shape a project, inform analyses and provide far more than an excuse to be out of the office.

Even more enjoyable are, of course, conferences when they’re held in such beautiful places! I’d never been to Barcelona or Milan. While I have no intention of making the cultural metropolises of Athlone and Limerick pale in comparison, it does feel different when adding an afternoon of sightseeing, includes a couple of centuries-old towns that look like they fell out of a fairy tale and churches built in the 13 hundreds in 20 degrees in March rather than freezing your fingers off after just an hour outside or seeing some trees and an old pub. I never thought science would facilitate me seeing the world, but I am delighted that it does. And while I never would have expected it before, I can now appreciate the value of presenting your project halfway to ensure that it’s the best it could have been when it’s done.

Presented my project at the European Association of Cancer Research Conference on National Pathology because I was awarded the Organisation of European Cancer Institutes (OECI) travel grant. So, I could enjoy some of the stunning views in Bergamo and even visit Milan.

Written by Ronja Struck

A February Full of Conferences

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.

Barcelona, Spain, February 2023

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.

IACR Meeting 2023, Athlone, Ireland

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.

Written by Catherine Murphy

Ronja’s Travel to Vilnius University and the National Pathology Centre

Ronja received a 3 months EACR Travel Fellowship to travel and learn new skills from RCSI Ireland to Vilnius University and the National Pathology Centre, Lithuania, between July and October 2022.

She reflected on her personal and professional experience in the EACR Cancer Researcher blog. Enjoy the reading!

Ronja PhD is supported by the Irish Research Council and the Conor Foley Neuroblastoma Cancer Research Foundation.

#GoForGoldCycle2022 covered 400 km and raised €1,500!

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.

How are you, PI?

Yeah, our (my) blogging is sporadic. The pattern is well recognisable – more posts with success stories or accomplishments or about the key activities. It is easy to share :). Please excuse us (me) when we are off the radar, but we remember our supporters and readers. We are back on track to celebrate Childhood Cancer Awareness Month this September.

So, how did my summer go? Well, nothing to complain about. I had time to go back to the labs, pick up on the outstanding task, and take on the white coat. Indeed, it comes with some assurance as well as troubleshooting. Some days were better than others. Some experiments worked, and another was inconsistent or inconclusive.

A fancy photo, but the routine cell culture itself can be very boring.

Where did I pick it up? This research journey is one year old already. 🙂 This project is focused on validation our 3D neuroblastoma model to test novel therapeutics. We set an experiment that required different expertise and contribution from every team member. In an ideal world, it was supposed to finish in 6 months. But the reality doesn’t stop to shake you. Various components have been delayed sometimes due to unforeseen circumstances (e.g. a broken equipment or out of stock reagent) or due to the lack of manpower or miscommunication at a given time. Eventually, we put the work on hold in October 2021, when we completed ~60%. Another go to continue was taken in April 2022. No luck! Then plan B was activated, and I have been back in the labs. Despite these challenges, this time has not been lost. We developed new ideas to complement the original plan. Now, the crucial 20% has to be done and dusted within 2 weeks time before teaching starts. Wish us a luck!

After the challenge of leading the Foundation Year Medicine Cycle, I am 100% positive that I love research with all up and downs. This routine is fascinating, it is not static. One day differs from another. Research questions are flowing in non-stop…

September 2022 is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Today marks the start of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which we celebrate every year to support and learn more about kids with cancer, their loving families, the doctors and caregivers who look after them and treat 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.

Childhood cancer is an umbrella term for many other types of this disease. Every 100th cancer patient is a child. Cancer is the 2nd most common cause of death among children after accidents. When it comes to a disease, we have to acknowledge that children are not little adults. They are constantly developing. So their diseases have different ways of progressing and responding to treatment. The causes of childhood cancer, including neuroblastoma, are not known. It would be right to expect more blind alleys and failed ideas in understanding these cancers. To address these challenges, more curiosity-driven and translationally focused research is needed.

The illustration was created by Luiza Erthal

The most common childhood cancers:

  • 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)