December 18, 2017

Top honours for cancer researchers at Irish Cancer Society Research Awards

Congratulations to cancer researchers Michelle Lowry and Dr Naomi Walsh who went home with the top prizes at the 2017 Irish Cancer Society Research Awards.

The awards, held recently in the House of Lords, Bank of Ireland, College Green, Dublin, recognised some of the vital work being undertaken by researchers funded by the Irish Cancer Society.

The Irish Cancer Society is the leading voluntary funder of cancer research in Ireland. Your donations fund more than 100 researchers across the country in the areas of cancer prevention, detection, treatment and survivorship.

Michelle, a PhD student at Trinity College Dublin and native of Timahoe, Co Laois, picked up the PhD Researcher of the Year award for her work as part of Irish Cancer collaborative research centre BREAST-PREDICT.

At the awards ceremony Michelle was praised for how well she communicated her complex work in HER2-positive breast cancer, which affects around 450 women each year.

A newly approved drug called Neratinib is preventing this type of breast cancer returning in some patients. But it doesn’t work for every woman who takes it. Michelle’s research wants to find out why this is the case.

She has found that some cancer cells produce an ingredient which helps them escape the drug. Now, she is focussing on how to stop the cells making this ingredient which, if successful, may lead to improved treatments for these patients and a greater chance of survival.

Commenting on her work, Michelle said: “You always hear people saying ‘we all know someone that has had cancer’. I’m no different. I have had family members, neighbours and friends diagnosed with cancer. I hate cancer, I hate the pain it causes and I hate how scary it can be for families. So that is the reason why I’m a cancer researcher. I want my research to make a difference and I want to help cancer patients.”

Naomi, a researcher at DCU’s National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology, scooped the prize of Post-Doctoral Researcher of the Year. At the awards ceremony Naomi described her current work, funded by Science Foundation Ireland’s, Starter Investigator Research Grant, which focusses on pancreatic cancer.

Quite a low proportion of patients survive pancreatic cancer. Naomi’s research wants to save lives by looking at the DNA differences of pancreatic cancer patients and seeing if preventing these differences from happening can prevent the cancer. She has linked the DNA differences into pathways which has allowed her to determine if groups of genes are related to the risk of pancreatic cancer development.

Commenting on her work, Naomi said: “Unfortunately, cancer touches everyone’s life at some point; as a cancer researcher, I have dedicated my career to understanding this disease. Although there have been major advances in early screening, detection, treatment and prevention, cancer still remains the second-leading cause of death worldwide.”

The vital work of cancer research could not be done without the invaluable contributions of support staff. At the ceremony the work of Fiona Lanigan, Centre Manager, BREAST-PREDICT, and Claire Kilty, Programme Manager, BREAST-PREDICT, received special recognition. Both play a crucial role in the running of BREAST-PREDICT, the Irish Cancer Society’s €7.5 million collaborative cancer research centre that focusses exclusively on breast cancer research. Funded entirely by you, the public, BREAST-PREDICT involves more than 50 researchers across the country pooling resources and expertise to get better outcomes for cancer patients.

Dr Isabella Bray, Cancer Research Manager at the Irish Cancer Society, highlighted the importance of communication as a tool for keeping the public aware of vital research which their donations fund:

“None of the vital research we fund would be possible without the support of the public. Since 2010 the Irish Cancer Society has invested €20 million into cancer research, so it’s really important that our funded researcher can show the public the impact their work is having.  Just like the Irish Cancer Society, our researchers won’t give up until cancer does.”


PhD Researcher of the Year category

Neil Conlon, DCU National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology / BREAST-PREDICT
Winner: Michelle Lowry, TCD / BREAST-PREDICT

Post-Doctorate Researcher of the Year category

Dr Aideen Ryan, NUI Galway
Dr Tapesh Santra, Systems Biology Ireland, UCD / BREAST-PREDICT
Winner: Dr Naomi Walsh, National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology, DCU