Seven third-level students are hoping to help make advances that will lead to vastly improved cancer treatments for Irish patients having received summer scholarships from Breakthrough Cancer Research.

The charity strives to ensure that Irish patients have access to the best treatments for cancer and never have to be told that there is “no hope.”

Our new Summer Student Scholarship is an initiative to facilitate the partnership of students with research teams and to foster the education of the next generation of cancer research leaders.

Amongst the students awarded scholarships are Katia Yazji of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland.

The medical student is conducting her research on Multiple Myeloma (MM). This is an incurable cancer of the blood which affects 300 people annually in Ireland.

Survival rates vary hugely for the condition with some patients surviving for over a decade whilst others pass away in less than two years.

Ms Yazji plans to use models of the condition in the laboratory to test new drugs that could work to improve survival rates for patients with this cancer.

“Recently research has shown that in MM, a gene called NCAPG is increased in patients with very poor survival. My research project aims to investigate why NCAPG is increased and how we could better treat patients with this gene abnormality” says Ms Yazji.  A second scholar, Tara O’Brien in Trinity, will investigate the role of a gene called MUC1 in drug resistance in MM, with the ultimate aim of improving treatment for MM.

Meanwhile, Maitiú Ó Murchú of UCD is striving to improve radiation response in Oesophageal Cancer, which is cancer of the food pipe, using the novel thermoresponsive hydrogel ‘Oxygel.’

Patients with this cancer are given radiation treatment to reduce tumour size prior to surgery. Up to 70% do not respond, and their tumour can actually increase in size at the time of surgery.

Mr Ó Murchú said he hopes to determine if this non-response to radiation is due to a lack of oxygen in the tumour.

The aim is to fix this by increasing oxygen levels using Oxygel, an oxygen-carrying gel that can be injected into the tumour.

Mr Ó Murchú adds that with a 20% survival rate, Oesophageal Cancer is a dismal condition with unmet clinical needs.

“New treatment options are urgently required for the approximate 450 annual oesophageal cancer patients in Ireland.

This research project will contribute towards a pre-clinical data package which aims to position Oxygel as a new treatment option for oesophageal cancer patients, particularly for those who do not respond to radiation treatment.”

Meanwhile, the other four scholarships were awarded to Chris Glynn of UCD, Ciara Ruth Gavin of UCC, Khadija Haouit of Trinity Translational Medicine, and Shaun Hartigan of UCC.

Research topics include examining: the role of stroma, or matrix in which pancreatic cancer cells grow in disease progression; the role of autophagy, a method of cell recovery in Leukaemia; methods to improve immunotherapy in Oesophageal cancer and lastly and a study investigating the role of non-coding RNA in Ovarian Cancer.

Orla Dolan, CEO of Breakthrough Cancer Research, says that they are investing in the future of cancer research in Ireland. “Cancer takes one life every hour of every day in Ireland. Our aim is to partner students with research teams and to help bring forward the next generation of cancer research leaders to make breakthroughs that could assist patients nationwide. Covid-19 has meant that students have had less time in the lab and has led to interruptions in cancer research, so this opportunity is even more important”.

“We are all aware of the power and need for research. It is the only thing that will lead to breakthroughs and give patients the futures they deserve.” 

Breakthrough is an Irish medical cancer research charity, which aims to inspire and enable financial support for exceptional research into cancer in Ireland leading to more effective treatments for patients in Ireland and Internationally and improving cancer care and patient survival.

To this end, we work closely with researchers and clinicians in practice all over Ireland so that research is targeted at finding new options for poor prognosis and currently incurable cancers.

Over the past 20 years, Breakthrough has helped bring 8 novel treatments to clinical trial and the organisation has a further 5 in the pipeline.

This new Summer Scholarship programme will further promote and drive more patient-focused cancer research within Ireland, through the education of the next generation of cancer researchers.

For more on the summer scholarship programme, see or email [email protected]

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