Summer student in focus: Robyn Stanley 

The Irish Cancer Society was delighted to fund Robyn Stanley, one of our 2021 Translational Biomedical Research Summer Studentship awardees. Robyn is a science student in Limerick Institute of Technology.

Robyn was awarded a 2021 Summer Studentship, under the supervision of Dr Catríona Dowling in the University of Limerick, to complete her study: ‘Improving the efficacy of HDAC6 inhibitors in non-small cell lung cancer.’

Globally, lung cancer contributes to more cancer deaths than any other type of cancer. While there have been some improvements, the outcomes and treatment options for the majority of lung cancer patients remains poor. One subtype of lung cancer, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), accounts for 85% of all cases.

Metabolism is the way in which our cells make energy. NSCLC cells have developed very clever and efficient ways to boost their metabolism and stay alive. Dr Dowling’s group have shown that a protein called histone deacetylase 6 (HDAC6), plays a very important role in maintaining this process in NSCLC. Blocking HDAC6 from working in the NSCLC cancer cells drives the cells into an energy crisis. However, the cells are very smart, and adapt to change how they get energy in an attempt to keep themselves alive and resist death.

Lung cancer cells carry different mutations, allowing them to survive. Depending on the type of mutation, it gives them different survival advantages. In this project, Robyn tried to understand how cells with different mutations, react to HDAC6 inhibition. Robyn combined a HDAC6-inhibiting drug with another drug, to turn off the new way in which cancer cells were getting their energy. Robyn’s research showed that cells with certain mutations were more sensitive to this treatment than others, showing the potential efficacy of this treatment as a personalised, targeted medicine approach in future.

Robyn will be publishing these findings in an academic journal later this year, which we look forward to reading. 

This programme gives undergraduate students the insight into life in a high-quality research environment.

We spoke to Robyn about her experience:

She said, “Working in this cancer research environment certainly opened my eyes, and hooked me straight away. It showed me the highs and the lows of emotions when working as a researcher in cancer… it also showed me the patience and endurance … and the time and persistence required, because the results in cancer research are not always the ones you are looking for!"

Thankfully, the ups and downs of cancer research have only reinforced Robyn’s determination to embark on a career in cancer research:

“I would be lying if I didn’t say I was overwhelmed for the first two weeks of my studentship. Learning all new highly advanced techniques and experiments, which I would have only read about in my lectures. Nonetheless by week 4… I knew this was for me. I was captivated by the unknown results and deciding what step to take next."

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I can confidently say it only took me a total of 8 weeks to realize that I wanted to be a part of this for the rest of my science career. 

Robyn Stanley

Since my studentship has ended, I have been researching grant applications for postgraduate scholarships, in a hope to pursue a career in cancer research after my final year in 2022”.

The Irish Cancer Society is thrilled to hear Robyn’s motivation has only grown, and we wish her all the best in her final year and in her future PhD applications!