Class 2024: Congratulations to Ciara, Ellen and Rabia!

Massive congratulations on the official moulding of PhD and MSc by Research to our promising young scientists: Rabia Saleem, Dr Ciara Gallagher and Dr Ellen King! Great accomplishments!

Three different journeys, with two through the COVID-19 pandemic. The full range of ups and downs. Who said that the PhD is a straight line? It has never been. It is more like the Irish weather: some days are sunny and bright, and some have scattered showers, gale winds and stormy snow, with sunshine developing elsewhere. The journey was spiced up with publications, conferences, travels, days out and fundraising events with the team.

It is a proud moment for me as well. 🙂 Three PhD and one MSc by Research students graduated within the last 12 months.

Of note, Ellen was behind our Twitter activities in the past, making our team visible!

Wish you all the best of luck on your new adventure!

Olga Piskareva

Childhood Cancer Awareness Month 2023

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. 

Team 2023

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! 

Experiencing Elegance: A Graduation Ceremony at the University of Siena, Italy

This blog takes you to the exciting scene of my MSc graduation ceremony at the University of Siena, Italy, completed with the prestigious laurel wreath.

I graduated during COVID-19, but there was no graduation ceremony at that time. Years later, I was invited to attend an “Alumni conference” by the University of Siena, but the plan was still unclear. When we arrived in Siena, we came across that there was a convocation ceremony tomorrow. Hold on! What? Yes, after years of waiting, it was finally taking place on June 7, 2023.

The next morning, all the former students from 48 countries came together in the University’s Grand Piazza del Duomo, where all of the Professors and sponsors, robed in their academic attire, delivered speeches that inspired and reminded us of the responsibility that comes with education, which ended in the most captivating moment of adorning us with laurel wreaths stating that “Rating your thesis attributes by authority granted to me by director I confer you the Masters Diploma in Vaccinology and Drug Development, Congratulations!”. The weight of this academic success was alleviated by our family members’ joyful yells and applause.

Walking out of the ceremony, wreathed in laurel, walking through Siena’s streets with classmates I’ve never met in person, hearing these words “Complimenti! Felicitazioni!” from commoners, I came back to Dublin with an ethereal sensation of pride and belonging that will remain with me for life. Altogether, It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.

Here are some glimpses of the ceremony:

P.S.: But this was not the end. I embarked on a wet-lab MSc in RCSI Dublin. As I am typing these lines, my MSc by Research work has just been submitted for examination, marking another hallmark and opening a new chapter in my life, “the PhD journey”. The new chapter – the new challenges and opportunities!

Written by Rabia Saleem

Summer Research: A Journey of Insight with the Cancer Bioengineering Group

Eight weeks ago, my journey into the intricate world of neuroblastoma began as I embarked on a remarkable research experience with the Cancer Bioengineering Group at RCSI. Guided by Dr. Olga Piskareva and supported by RCSI Research Summer School, this experience would transform my perspective on scientific exploration forever.

On my first day in the lab, excitement and nervousness mingled within me. But as I stepped into the bustling lab space, I was greeted with warm smiles and a sense of camaraderie among the researchers. The Cancer Bioengineering Group was known for its collaborative spirit, and it didn’t take long for me to feel like a valued member of the team.

RSS 2023 in Action

The research work was a perfect blend of diversity and fascination, encompassing both desk assignments and hands-on lab experiments. The highlight of it all was the chance to work with the cutting-edge 3D bio-printing machine, Rastrum. Witnessing the process of 3D bio-printing and using it to seed the Kelly cell line in various matrices left me in awe of the potential this technology held for future cancer therapies.

Yet, this journey extended beyond the realm of research. It was about the people – the passionate researchers who inspired and supported one another, the dedicated support staff who kept the lab running smoothly, and most notably, Dr. Olga Piskareva and Alysia Scott. They were more than mentors; they became friends and confidants, guiding me through challenges with unwavering support and celebrating our achievements as a team.

As the eight weeks drew to a close, I couldn’t help but reflect on the immense growth I had experienced professionally and personally. The cancer bioengineering field has unveiled the possibilities of using engineering principles to combat a disease that has touched countless lives worldwide.

This journey instilled in me a profound sense of purpose – a drive to contribute to the fight against neuroblastoma and other devastating illnesses. With a heart full of gratitude, I bid farewell to the Cancer Bioengineering Group at RCSI, knowing that the friendships forged and the knowledge gained would forever shape my future endeavours in the world of cancer research.

In the end, it wasn’t merely an eight-week stint; it was a transformational odyssey that solidified my passion for scientific discovery and my determination to make a difference in the lives of those affected by cancer. And for that, I will be eternally grateful.

Written by Mohammad Alabdulrahman, MED Class of 2026

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!

New Orlean’s Red Beans & Rice

While completing my Master’s degree at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, I found the top-notch post-grad comfort food I’ve taken with me ever since. After a day of work, the last thing I want to do is come home and cook an entire meal. Luckily, red beans and rice can be adapted to a slow cooker. Allowing me to throw all my ingredients in and come home to an amazing-smelling apartment with the most satisfying warm bowl waiting for me.

There’s something to the name “The Big Easy” that describes New Orleans because the people and the food take life a bit slower and enjoy every savoury bit together. My favourite memory in New Orleans is when my friends and I prepped a massive stock of red beans and rice for the week of Mardi Gras. This is an entire week of festivities and parade floats where the city quite literally shuts down since everyone participates. It was so comforting every night (or early morning) to come back from the parades and dish out the prepped meal that would fill you up, stick to your bones, and help you fall sound asleep with more than enough energy for the next days of parades.

My first red beans and rice in New Orleans

Red beans and rice is a Cajun dish with Haitian influence and contains the “holy trinity” – bell pepper, onion, and celery. You can find this vegetable blend in the base of almost every Cajun meal, including etouffee, jambalaya, and gumbo. Red beans and rice are traditionally made with a stovetop pot set on a low boil all day. However, the ease of a slow cooker is made with the PhD student in mind as it also keeps well during the week. The most important piece is to get red beans and soak them for about 12 hours before cooking them. This will make the beans more digestible as well as more hearty. Andouille is a Cajun spiced sausage that might be at a speciality butcher shop. Another crucial ingredient, Slap Ya Mama (yes, you read that right), is only available in the U.S. Slap Ya Mama seasoning has its name because “every time a mama uses it, she receives a loving slap on the back and a kiss on the cheek for another great dish”. There are so many great memories I have from my time in New Orleans and I’m happy to share my favorite meal. I hope you are able to replicate this dish and taste the Southern Comfort that is very true for New Orleans.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Recipe:

Serves 6, Cook time is 4 –8 hours

  • 450 grams of dried red kidney beans (New Orleans Camelia brand recommended)
  • 450 grams Andouille sausage (or smoked), sliced ½ inch
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped and divided
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon Slap Ya Mama seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

For serving:

  • Cooked long-grain white rice
  • Hot sauce

Instructions:

  1. Rinse beans and soak.
  2. Brown sausages in oil on both sides. Set aside.
  3. In the same pan, add garlic and onion, sauté for 2-3 minutes until transparent. Then add the bell pepper, celery, and half of the green onions. Sauté for 5 minutes.
  4. To the slow cooker, add your cooked vegetables. Then add the red beans, black pepper, Slap Ya Mama, dried thyme, oregano, and bay leaves.
  5. Add the water and chicken broth.
  6. Set the slow cooker to high setting for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.
  7. When beans are ready, take out 1 ½ cups to mash and put back in pot.
  8. Remove the bay leaves and add the sausage back in. Cook until sausage is hot.
  9. Serve over a bowl of hot white rice with hot sauce, green onions, and parsley for garnish.

Notes:

  • In New Orleans, they also add a split-faced grilled sausage to the top.
  • This can be adapted to an Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) as well. Just set the pressure to high for 60 minutes with a 15-minute natural release.
  • If the beans seem too thick, add more water.
  • This is a great dish that can be stored for a week or frozen for two months.

Enjoy!!!

Written by Alysia Scott

Back to my roots – Biomolecular science careers and alumni event at TUD

Hi again, Ciara here!  Last week (May 2023), I was asked back to the college I completed my undergraduate degree at the technological university of Dublin (TUD). They held their first Bio-molecular Science Careers and Alumni event. This event entailed previous graduates returning to the college to enjoy an evening of talks from graduates of other years showing their journey since graduation.  I was lucky enough to be amongst the panel of speakers to hopefully inspire this year’s graduates about all the possibilities available after graduation. It was also great to be back and connecting with familiar faces of classmates, lecturers and TUD staff. I had a fantastic time reminiscing about my time in college. I was lucky to be one of the residents of the old DIT Kevin St (now located at TUD Grangegorman). My course was very hands-on, accumulating 30 hours of lab work a week along with lectures. Although it was intense, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in DIT (now TUD).

My presentation on the evening was aimed at students thinking about research as their next step. I told them all about my career journey since 2017, from graduating college, moving to industry and coming back to academia to complete my PhD.

So, for my blog post this week, I would like to leave you with my top tips I shared with them for starting out on a PhD journey.

  1. Pick a topic you have a genuine interest in – don’t just take an opportunity because you don’t think it will come around again.
  2. There will always be funding available. You have to look in the right places and be persistent in your search.
  3. Get to know your supervisor (PI) before starting; you spend 4 years building a relationship with them.
  4. Ask questions to current PhD students; you can never ask too many questions before beginning.
  5. Work as a research assistant (RA) with a research group while searching for funding and before committing to a full-time 4 year-PhD. It helps get a feel if research is the right place for you.
  6. Enjoy the extended college years!

Written by Ciara Gallagher

Keeping Sane While Thesis-Writing

The question on everyone’s lips: “how’s thesis-writing going?” The question that has plagued me the last few months from well-meaning colleagues, friends and family. I can confirm that writing a PhD thesis can very much leave you feeling like SpongeBob, or Ross from friends – I’m fineeee!

It’s never going to be an easy task, and there’s always going to be moments where you feel like pulling your hair out with stress or booking a one-way flight to another country and never turning back – but I haven’t given in to those invasive thoughts yet! And I have found a few ways to keep myself from spiralling as I attack the monster that is the PhD thesis:

  1. Don’t give in to isolation

I get it, the temptation to lock yourself in a room with your laptop and completely block out the outside world until the thesis is done. But if you’re anything like me, this is a recipe for hitting a serious wall. After transitioning from being in the lab surrounded by my colleagues to being in a quiet room with just my thesis, I learned pretty quickly that if I didn’t take time out to have lunch or a coffee with my friends, I’d be a very sad gal by the end of the day – not conducive to good writing. So don’t let the stress turn you into a hermit, your mental health will thank you for it.

  1. Move your body

This is a keep-sane mechanism that I neglected when the stress hit in my final year of my undergrad. I fell into the trap of thinking I didn’t have time to exercise – the wrong mindset!! I now recognize that by taking time out for a yoga class or to put my earphones in and throw some weight around RCSI gym, I’m giving myself the mental break I need to then have much more successful writing sessions afterwards. Not to mention keeping the endorphins high to balance out the thesis-induced cortisol production. So whatever your preferred form of exercise is – schedule it in and do it!

  1. Get outdoors

Another textbook keep-sane tip, but for a good reason! I know for a fact the days I get over to Stephen’s Green for a coffee walk or to eat lunch outside, I generally have a better mood for the day. And a happy gal is a productive gal. The serotonin boost from feeling the sun on your skin or seeing some gorge flowers or a cute squirrel is fairly unmatched. This can also be easily combined with Tips #1 and #2 at the weekends by planning a nice hike with friends to have the chats, move your bodies, see some views and, of course, get an obligatory coffee and sweet treat afterwards. I’ve found it to be an ideal weekend activity to get me out and feel like I’ve done something nice without tiring myself out too much to be able to get some work done afterwards. We’re so blessed in Dublin with parks, mountains and the seaside, not to be taken for granted!

  1. Schedule in some silliness

I know a lot of people who vow to stay on their best behaviour while they are thesis writing, saying no to social events involving a sneaky drink or two. But I have learned that for me, this is not the best approach, and scheduling in some occasional silliness is the best motivator to keep me going. You truly can’t beat the feeling of sending a draft off on a Friday evening, followed by heading out somewhere fun with your friends. Be that a karaoke night, a few drinks in the evening sunshine, or a night away somewhere, these moments of fun are important for keeping sane. It’s also important to remember that while it feels like your PhD is the center of the universe, it’s not a reason to miss out on life events happening in the meantime – your sister’s hen party, your friend’s birthday, or whatever else is happening outside of your PhD bubble. Finishing your PhD, like life in general, is about balance, moments of fun and silliness to balance out the serious stuff.

  1. Think ahead

My last tip for keeping sane while thesis-writing is to think ahead of what life might be like when you’re done. This does NOT mean stressing about applying for jobs or looking for new housing, or worrying about finances post-PhD, but just playing with ideas in your head of how you envision your life after you’ve earned the coveted Dr. title. Do you want to take a break from science, travel, or spend time with family? The world is quite literally your oyster. For a good chunk of my thesis-writing I avoided thinking ahead because it overwhelmed me, there’s often no definitive deadline to a PhD thesis, so it is difficult to plan ahead, and if you set yourself a deadline that you don’t meet, it can feel like a failure. But I’ve come to realise that by flexibly planning the end and what comes next, the light at the end of the tunnel becomes easier to see.

So they’re the five top methods I’ve been using to keep me sane in the final sprints of my PhD. My final word of wisdom is this – be compassionate with yourself. Writing a PhD thesis is not easy, and it does take time (sometimes more time than you had anticipated), so try not to beat yourself up if your progress isn’t where you thought it would be. You will finish, and it’s better to be in a mentally good place when you do so you can enjoy the feeling of accomplishment and celebrations that come with it.

Happy (hopefully sane) writing!

Written by Catherine Murphy

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