Maria Carey was awarded an Irish Research Council Enterprise Partnership Scheme (IRC EPS) PhD Award. She is working in UCC with supervisors Dr Sharon McKenna and Dr Tracey O’Donovan. Maria’s PhD is focused on ‘Investigation into the mechanism by which post translational modification with isg15 can modulate the viability of oesophageal cancer cells’.
Ireland has approximately 450 new cases of oesophageal (foodpipe) cancer annually, one of the highest rates in Europe. The five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed in Ireland is 18% and less than 20% across Europe. Thus, focusing our research on increasing the chances of survival should be a top priority in Ireland.
Genetic changes in our cells can lead to abnormal cell growth, causing cancer. Current treatment methods such as chemo- and radio-therapy are used to kill these abnormal cells. However, oesophageal cancer cells find ways to escape these treatments and can become resistant to cell death. At CancerResearch@UCC one group are exploring genetic differences between oesophageal cancer cells that die in response to treatment and those that are resistant. One particular group of genes was more highly expressed in cancer cells that responded to treatment. Preliminary research shows that the expression of these genes can be modulated, and this can have an impact on drug resistance.
Maria’s research aims to understand how these genes function. One of these genes produces a protein called ISG15 that can attach to other proteins, causing functional changes. Other interacting genes can promote or inhibit this attachment. Maria wants to establish the key target proteins that undergo this attachment and understand how this can influence the response of cancer cells to chemotherapy. Ultimately, this research will help to understand how to modify the function of key targets, so that strategies can be developed to combat drug resistance and make treatment more effective for oesophageal cancer.