UCD researchers and patient partners honoured at Irish Cancer Society Research Awards 2024


People involved in ground-breaking research projects around the country were honoured at the Irish Cancer Society Research Awards on Friday, February 23rd at Regent House, Trinity College Dublin.

In 2023 alone, the Irish Cancer Society funded over 30 new research projects and over 100 cancer researchers all across the country
The event, hosted by patient advocate and healthcare campaigner, Kay McKeon, celebrates some of the amazing work in cancer research being carried out by nominees around Ireland, funded by the Irish Cancer Society. 

Dr Luke Jones, Systems Biology Ireland won the Senior Researcher of the Year award and PhD Researcher of the Year award went to Chowdhury Arif Jahangir from the group of Prof. William Gallagher.

The event also celebrated the central contribution of patients and survivors to innovative research projects that help to improve the lives of those impacted by cancer. This was reflected in the category of Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) Achievement of the Year Award, which went to a group of PPI members and researchers from the Cancer Biology & Therapeutics group under Assoc. Prof. Antoinette Perry who have worked together to incorporate the patient voice into ovarian cancer research.

The researchers include Claire Hughes, Adele Connor, Asia Jordan, Lea Schäfer, Dr Arman Rahman, Yvonne O’Meara, Teerna Banerjee, Chowdhury Arif Jahangir and Assoc. Prof. Antoinette Perry. The PPI panel members include Brigid Carr, Katayoun Bahramian, Ingrid Halligan Dunne, Lorraine McNally and Deirdre O' Raw.

A group photo of Asia Jordan, Dr Arman Rahman, Deirdre O' Raw, Dr Antoinette Perry, Chowdhury Arif Jahangir, Adele Connor, Lea Schäfer and Claire Hughes
(L-R) Asia Jordan, Dr Arman Rahman, Deirdre O' Raw, Dr Antoinette Perry, Chowdhury Arif Jahangir, Adele Connor, Lea Schäfer and Claire Hughes - Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) Achievement of the Year Award Winners from UCD

On the night, the Irish Cancer Society also announced the creation of the Sonya Lynch, PPI Award 2024. This award will provide funding to drive forward PPI activities, specifically in metastatic breast cancer research. The award was created in honour of Sonya Lynch, who used her experience with cancer to help others and was a founding team member of the LYSA study in Cork as part of the Irish Cancer Society Women’s Health Initiative. 

Commenting on the award, Dr Luke Jones said: “Thanks to the Irish Cancer Society’s funding, over the last number of years I have been able to work to identify the Achilles heel of paediatric blood cancer cells.

My research is particularly focused on a type of leukaemia called acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). AML accounts for approximately 20% of all paediatric leukaemias and is the leading cause of blood cancer-related mortality in childhood. Survival rates for paediatric AML have improved dramatically in recent decades, now exceeding 60%, however this is mostly due to improvements in patient care rather than the introduction of new therapies.

AML has mutations that cause over activity in enzymes called kinases, which are usually linked to poor patient outcomes. These kinases can be directly targeted with new non-chemotherapy drugs called kinase inhibitors, which could be more effective and have fewer side-effects than chemotherapy. However, these drugs are often ineffective when used alone, with many working better in combination, and it is very difficult to predict which combinations work best in patients.

We are working to fast-track the process of finding the best combinations for patients. Our hope is that this will result in more effective and less toxic treatments for patients with these aggressive blood cancers.”

Chowdhury Arif Jahangir who is supported jointly by the Irish Cancer Society and Science Foundation Ireland under the Precision Oncology Ireland programme said: “My work focuses on a biomarker panel for early-stage breast cancer patients. Breast cancer patients are often prescribed chemotherapy after surgery to prevent cancer from returning to the body. In most cases, however, conventional tests in hospitals alone are not enough to reliably predict the likelihood of tumour reappearance. Therefore, many early-stage breast cancer patients who will not benefit from chemotherapy, still have to undergo this toxic treatment, with considerable side-effects.

To solve this problem, our lab has identified a panel of tissue biomarkers. In this case, measuring the abundance of these biomarkers in the patient’s biopsy samples can help us to successfully differentiate between high-risk patients who may stand to benefit from chemotherapy and low-risk patients who do not. Our hope is that through this testing, we will be able to prevent some patients from experiencing the often debilitating side effects of chemotherapy.” 

Claire Hughes, one of the researchers on the Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) Champion of the Year Award entry said: “Our group of researchers and patient partners were awarded an Irish Cancer Society PPI grant in 2022 to broaden patient involvement and include voices from underrepresented communities in our ovarian cancer research. In March 2023, patients and researchers came together for a kick-off meeting to discuss how to implement our plan to improve diversity in our patient committee. As a pilot scheme, we chose to engage the Bangladeshi community in Ireland.

Together, we created a video that introduces the research, explains how PPI in lab-based research works, and how to get involved. The video’s audio and subtitles were also translated into the Bengali language. These videos were shared on social media, through cancer charities and amongst the Bangladeshi community. As a result of this campaign, we had responses from 11 new women interested in getting involved, including 2 women from the Bangladeshi community.

It is so valuable to have the patient voice at the centre of our research, particularly those voices from underrepresented communities. Their experiences ensure our research is relevant and meaningful and helps guide new projects in our lab.”

Irish Cancer Society Head of Research Dr Claire Kilty congratulated the winners saying: “Cancer research in Ireland has a huge impact on the lives of people affected by cancer. It is a driving force in improving not only treatments and outcomes, but in quality of life beyond cancer. It was fantastic to get an appreciation of the amazing cancer research projects currently happening right across the country.

We are proud to be the largest voluntary funded of cancer research in Ireland. However, none of the vital research we fund would be possible without the support of the public, especially on days like Daffodil Day. We would encourage everyone to please get out there and support Daffodil Day in whatever way you can on March 22nd.”