SBI brings awareness to childhood cancer

Written by: Maryann Kelly
Written on: Friday, 08 October, 2021

September was Childhood Cancer Awareness Month around the world. For Systems Biology Ireland, this was a great opportunity to highlight the centre’s research in the childhood cancer sphere and also bring attention to patient and charity organisations that support families throughout the cancer journey. 

SBI has ~13 investigators, expert clinicians, postdoctoral scholars and PhD students who are currently working on various childhood cancers. The primary focus areas for these researchers are neuroblastoma and leukaemia, and there are both wet and dry lab scientists working to answer the grand challenges of these diseases. 

Over the course of two weeks, SBI ran a Twitter campaign with childhood cancer researcher profiles from across the centre. The campaign was very well received, with more than 31,000 impressions on Twitter and an average daily engagement rate of 3.35 percent. All of the researcher profiles can be seen on the SBI Twitter page @sysbioire, with a few examples below. 

As important as it was to recognise the individual researchers on the ground, it was just as essential to acknowledge all that the patients and families go through when faced with a childhood cancer diagnosis. Therefore, towards the end of the month, SBI also organised a private panel event to bring early career researchers together with patient advocates and clinicians. 

The panel, titled Neuroblastoma Patient Engagement Panel - “From Research to Reality'', was held over Zoom on Wednesday, September 29, and featured John and Margaret Foley of the Conor Foley Neuroblastoma Cancer Research Foundation (CFNCRF), Dr. Cormac Owens, Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin, and Dr. Melinda Halasz, SBI. The panel was introduced by Prof. Walter Kolch and facilitated by childhood cancer expert, Prof. Owen Smith, who is also an SBI Investigator and clinician. 

The event lasted for approximately an hour with 37 attendees, and covered a broad range of perspectives, from treatment challenges in the clinic to the physical/emotional/mental toll the disease takes on the patients, to the innovations being tested in the lab, to expanding public awareness overall. John and Margaret Foley also shared the very personal story of their son, Conor, who passed away from Neuroblastoma at the age of 17, and how they founded not-for-profit CFNCRF as part of his legacy. To date, the family has raised more than €135,000 for neuroblastoma research and have recently announced a call for research proposals under the Health Research Charities Ireland (HRCI) and Health Research Board (HRB) Joint Funding Research Fund.

Photo: John & Margaret Foley speak to panel participants.

Overall, the panel was hailed a success and the participants were very engaged largely due to the enthusiasm of the panelists and a significant amount of thoughtful discussion guided by Owen Smith. 

SBI is dedicated to addressing real-life cancer treatment options for children, and the activities held over the month of September reinforced that drive within the centre.