Can a cancer researcher help in a Covid-19 crisis?


In our Zoom for Thought on May 5th, 2020, UCD Discovery Directory Prof. Patricia Maguire spoke to Prof. William Gallagher, Director of UCD Conway Institute about how a cancer researcher can help in a Covid-19 pandemic. In case you missed it, we give you our key takeaways. 


  • Though he always had a keen interest in molecular biology and genetics, Prof. Gallagher became a cancer biologist “by accident”. Like many people, he has been personally affected by cancer within his extended family “and that has driven forward my passion”.  

  • In recent weeks he was asked to chair the HSE COVID-19 Lab R&D Group. This new group aims to build testing self-sufficiency in Ireland by integrating “some of the really good ideas within Irish third level institutions and also within our indigenous Irish industry”. 

  • He enjoys the interdisciplinary nature of this group. “In my career people have accused me of being a Jack of all trades and I actually quite like that description because ultimately I think for science there are areas where people need to be focussed on probing things in depth but there is also a role for individuals to look across boundaries and that’s the kind of space I like to work in."

  • SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing work that took place between the UCD Conway Institute and the National Virus Reference Laboratory had interesting results. Some of the first Irish genomes were 100% identical to the original genome from Wuhan city but the rest seemed to be related to sequences from patients who had travel history from northern Italy.

  • Dr Nicola Fletcher, a new Ad Astra fellow in the Conway Institute, has been training volunteers to be able to carry out testing for SARS-CoV-2 in clinical labs, as well as setting up functional studies with the virus. A virologist, she worked on the original SARS virus, and she "was ideally placed at the right time". 

  • Even if you have a promising Covid-19 vaccine, how would you distribute it effectively? That will be a challenge. 

  • We "will probably experience problems with undiagnosed cancers coming down the tracks" because of people not seeking medical help now. 

  • Covid-19 is good for research. It has shown that you can rapidly combine groups and develop solutions. It has also put science on the mainstream agenda.

This article was brought to you by the UCD Institute for Discovery - fuelling interdisciplinary research collaborations.