10K Vhi Women’s Mini-Marathon – #POWEROF10

The new norm, new challenges, new excitement and new achievements! We all proud to say that we completed 10K Vhi Womens Mini marathon socially distanced. Our paces were so different that distancing came absolutely natural. We ran it individually but were a team mentally. Even the capricious Irish weather was our ally. The Sun was bright. The air was fresh and crispy.

This was an individual challenge #POWEROF10: just you and the trail. 10 laps around St Stephen’s Green park were to make the target 10K in aid of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. The celebration of life, therapeutical advancements, the strength of little patients battling their cancer and their families, doctors and carers who are supporting them in their journey. The emphasis on the gaps in available treatments and diagnosis and the importance of research that needs funding.

Personally, my 10K were split into two parts. The first 4K were full of arguments with my body. Why didn’t I like to do laps? Could I complete 10K? Was I fit to do it? Keep going! No walking – better slow jogging. Did one lap make 1K? Should I do a longer lap instead? And so on and so forth. Then, the second part kicked in. My body stopped arguing and began to enjoy it. I noticed beautiful Autumn colours on the trees, people walking around with a cup of coffee or chatting away, saw my team members overtaking me, and our volunteers counting our laps. People on the street and in the park were cheering us up. What a wonderful and fulfilling day!

As Catherine says: “The 10 Laps 10km challenge was tough! Like many people, I took up running casually during the lockdown, however, I never did more than a couple of kilometres at once, so I was absolutely not prepared for running 10. But the cheers from our socially distanced spectators and all the online support we received meant I got through it. Also knowing what a positive impact this challenge could have for the future of childhood cancer treatment provided plenty of motivation to finish the race 💛🎗”

10K by 6 team members socially distanced. #POWEROF10. Go Gold! Let’s reach 1.5k in donations!

Our Go Fund Me page is still open until this Sunday (October 11th midnight) if you wish to support us.

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

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

New Chapter – Cancer BioEngineering Group

I have started a new chapter in my research career by joining the Department of Anatomy and Regenerative Medicine as a StAR Research Lecturer. By a coincidence, it has happened on the first day of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. It might be symbolic.

The new start requires fresh ideas. Now, the new chapter is called Cancer Bioengineering Group. Exciting times ahead!

This Friday the 13th of September the Cancer-Bioengineering research group will be hosting a ‘Waffle Morning’ in honour of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. 

Pop into the ground floor staff common room from 8.30am to enjoy some delicious freshly made waffles and support the wonderful charities; CMRF Crumlin, NCRC, CFNCRF and NBUK.

We promise to bake 3D waffle engineered scaffolds and populate them with marshmallows, berries, cream and Nutella!

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.

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

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

Goodbye 2017! Hello 2018!

When I look back on my journey in 2017, there were many junctions, traffic lights and stops as well as ups and downs. Junctions were to make decisions, while traffic lights and stops – to be patient. Ups and downs were my feelings of satisfaction. The good mix of both kept me to stay human. It is not the number of grants received that matters it is who around you. I have met genuinely curiosity-driven students who made this journey fascinating and very special.

My most memorable Ups  were the successful examination and graduation of my PhD student John Nolan, organisation and chairing the IACR Meeting session: Challenges in Childhood Cancers, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and the Gala Dinner with the CFNCRF, the launch of my very own research team thanks to the funding by the NCRC and the Neuroblastoma UK, the successful completion of two final year undergraduate and two MSc projects, and welcoming the new PhD student Tom Frawley.

My team is growing and I am looking forward to 2018!

Goodbye 2017 and Hello 2018!