Nina Zumbrunn, DCU; Jessica Walsh, UCC; Tim Cronin, UCC; and Sarah Badar, RCSI will be taking part in research funded by Breakthrough Cancer Research’ Summer Scholarship Programme this summer. PHOTO: Gerard McCarthy Photography

Students hoping for cancer breakthrough

Two students from UCC are among 5 third-level students hoping to find breakthroughs in cancer care treatments this summer.

Their research, across a range of cancers, is being funded by charity Breakthrough Cancer Research’s Summer Scholarship Programme.

As part of the programme, Tim Cronin from Bantry will be looking at the role of expanded access chemotherapy programmes in a designated cancer centre at CUH.

Expanded access involves pharmaceutical companies providing early access to unauthorised new medicines that are not yet publicly available to cancer patients who may benefit from them. These medicines have been proven to be safe and effective through clinical trials but have not yet been brought to market.

Currently in Ireland, there is no standardised protocol for the use of such medicines. This means it relies on individual applications from oncologists and haematologists to pharmaceutical companies to obtain these treatments for their patients.

Mr Cronin aims to create a repository of available programmes in Ireland to allow for greater awareness and use, and to begin the first steps towards creating a nationwide expanded access programme protocol to manage and monitor their use in cancer patients in Ireland more effectively.

The goal is that these programmes will be more readily available to patients who need them and as a result will improve cancer patient outcomes into the future.

Another UCC student, Jessica Walsh, will be researching the effects of particular molecules on vitamin D receptors in oesophageal cancer (cancer of the food pipe).

According to Breakthrough Cancer Research, approximately 500 people are diagnosed every year with this disease in Ireland and if current projections continue, by 2045 annual cases of oesophageal cancer in men will increase by 115% and 109% in women.

Ms Walsh said: “In oesophageal adenocarcinoma (the most common form of oesophageal cancer) we can see an increase in vitamin D receptor protein expression. In this study, we hope to identify important products created by the body that activates the vitamin D receptor in oesophageal cancer cells. The significance of such findings would contribute to a better understanding of the causes of oesophageal cancer and aid in the development of therapeutic strategies.”

Breakthrough Cancer Research is an Irish medical cancer research charity, which aims to inspire and enable financial support for exceptional research into cancer in Ireland leading to more effective treatments for patients and to improve cancer care and patient survival.