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Irish Cancer Society Research Awards 2024

By Mindo - 22nd Apr 2024

research awards

Cancer researchers from around Ireland were recently honoured for their work at the Society’s annual event

Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) Achievement of the Year Award winners

As the largest voluntary funder of cancer research in Ireland, the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) is incredibly proud of the dedication of all our funded researchers who work tirelessly to drive forward world-class cancer research.

In 2023 we supported 188 individuals all around Ireland who undertook translational and clinical projects in areas such as the early detection of cancer, the development of new cancer treatments, and clinical trials. We also funded researchers focused on preventing cancer, as well as survivorship research focused on improvements in the care, quality-of-life and outcomes of those affected by cancer, including those at end-of-life.

To recognise the incredible progress of our researchers, every year the ICS hosts Annual Research Awards. These awards serve as an opportunity to highlight the groundbreaking cancer research that our funded researchers conduct, as well as the impact this has on the lives of those affected by cancer.

This year, the awards took place on 23 February at Regent House, Trinity College Dublin, with the event hosted by patient advocate and healthcare campaigner, Ms Kay McKeon.

Among those to claim top honours was Senior Researcher of the Year winner, Dr Luke Jones (PhD), as well as Dr Erin Crowley (PhD), who scooped the Support Staff of the Year Award. The prize of PhD Researcher of the Year went to Mr Chowdhury Arif Jahangir. The event also celebrated the central contribution of people affected by cancer to innovative research projects. This was reflected in the Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) Achievement of the Year Award, which went to a group of PPI members and researchers from University College Dublin (UCD), who have worked together to incorporate the patient voice into ovarian cancer research. The researchers include: Ms Claire Hughes, Ms Adele Connor, Ms Asia Jordan, Ms Lea Schäfer, Dr Arman Rahman, Ms Yvonne O’Meara, Ms Teerna Banerjee, Mr Chowdhury Arif Jahangir, and Dr Antoinette Perry (PhD). The PPI members include: Ms Brigid Carr, Ms Katayoun Bahramian, Ms Ingrid Halligan Dunne, Ms Lorraine McNally, and Ms Deirdre O’Raw.


These awards serve as an opportunity to highlight the groundbreaking cancer research that our funded researchers conduct

Blood cancers

Dr Jones, who was awarded Senior Researcher of the Year, is a translational researcher at Systems Biology Ireland in UCD. Dr Jones conducts research into blood cancers among children. When asked about the award, he 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. 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.”

Early-stage breast cancer

Winner of the PhD Award, Mr Arif Jahangir, undertakes research developing new ways to predict the risk of breast cancer recurrence in women affected by early-stage breast cancer.

Mr Arif Jahangir, who is supported jointly by the ICS and Science Foundation Ireland under the Precision Oncology Ireland programme in UCD, said: “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.”

Ovarian cancer

The ICS is committed to highlighting the impact that the patient voice in cancer research has on improving the relevance and quality of the research we fund. This year, we were thrilled to acknowledge the work of the ovarian cancer PPI group at UCD as an exemplar of how people affected by cancer and researchers can work together.

Ms Hughes, the lead on this project, said: “Our group of researchers and patient partners were awarded an Irish Cancer Society PPI grant 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 two women from the Bangladeshi community.


It was fantastic to get an appreciation of the amazing cancer research projects currently happening right across the country

“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.”

Collaboration

Welcoming her Support Staff of the Year Award, recognising her work as Academic Study Coordinator at the University College Cork (UCC) Cancer Trials Group, Dr Crowley said: “Although I’m a pharmacist, I have really relished the experience to delve into the cancer research space, bringing unique insights and perspectives from my former roles.”

“My position is shared across the UCC Cancer Trials Group and the Health Research Board (HRB) Clinical Research Facility-UCC, which are both HRB-funded. This has really allowed me to strengthen collaboration between the two infrastructures. Seeing the impact this has had in the last two years has been incredibly rewarding and makes me so optimistic in our ability to give our patients opportunities to participate in academic clinical research in the future.”

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 funder 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, which took place on 22 March.

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