Researcher in Focus: Mairéad Cooney

Mairéad is a clinical exercise physiologist with expertise in chronic illness rehabilitation. After working with individuals recovering from cancer as part of her role at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital in the UK, Mairéad became passionate about the promotion of physical activity among individuals living with and beyond cancer, and was motivated to undertake research that explored physical activity within cancer care in Ireland.

She was awarded a PhD scholarship from the Irish Cancer Society in 2015 to investigate the effects of physical activity on the physical and psychosocial well-being of individuals who had completed cancer treatment. Mairéad’s PhD was the first non-biomedical postgraduate research project to be funded by the Irish Cancer Society that focused on the survivorship phase of the cancer journey.

Mairéad’s research was conducted in Dublin City University and focused on developing, implementing and evaluating the effects of a programme called MedEx IMPACT (Improved Physical Activity after Cancer Treatment), which was designed to support survivors of cancer to engage in regular physical activity and optimise their long-term health and well-being. Mairéad conducted a trial, which included almost 200 participants, to test the effectiveness of MedEx IMPACT. The results showed that the programme was effective in increasing the long-term physical activity levels, cardiorespiratory fitness and quality of life of individuals living with and beyond cancer. In 2017, the Department of Health made a commitment to invest in cancer survivorship programmes to address short falls identified within the Irish National Cancer Strategy. This body of research could therefore, provide valuable evidence, specific to the Irish context that could help inform the development of such cancer survivorship programmes.

Mairéad’s research has been published in scientific journals, including the European Journal of Cancer Care and Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, and presented at National and International Conferences, including the Annual Meetings of the American College of Sports Medicine and the International Society of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity. Mairéad has also received 2 awards in recognition of the quality and contribution of her work, namely the Irish Cancer Society’s PhD Researcher of the Year Award and the Irish Research Council’s New Foundation Award.

Mairéad successfully defended her PhD in June 2019. Currently, Mairéad is an assistant lecturer in clinical exercise and human physiology in Athlone Institute of Technology and hopes to continue her research on exercise and cancer in this role.