Laois scientist honoured for outstanding research at Irish Cancer Society Research Awards

Michelle is a native of Timahoe, Co Laois. She attended Scoil Chríost Rí secondary school in Portlaoise, where she credits her science teacher, Mr Slattery, for the beginnings of her scientific career.

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Laois scientist honoured for outstanding research at Irish Cancer Society Research Awards

Michelle Lowry (second from right), from Timahoe, Laois, is joined by her sister Amanda and parents Jim and Mary as she is awarded the prize of PhD Researcher of the Year. Photo: Andres Poveda.

A top Laois scientist, Michelle Lowry, has been recognised for her work in cancer research at the 2017 Irish Cancer Society Research Awards.

The awards, held on Thursday, November 30 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 charity is the leading voluntary funder of cancer research in Ireland. Through their donations the public funds more than 100 researchers across the country in the areas of cancer prevention, detection, treatment and survivorship.

Michelle won the top prize of PhD Researcher of the Year at the ceremony, where cancer researchers were judged on the how well they communicate their work to a general non-scientific audience.

Timahoe native Michelle Lowry is joined by Dr Isabella Bray, Cancer Research Manager at the Irish Cancer Society, as she scoops the PhD Researcher of the Year Award. Part of the Irish Cancer Society’s BREAST-PREDICT research centre, Michelle’s work looks at how treatments can be more effective for HER2-positive breast cancer patients. (Photo: Andres Poveda)

Michelle is a native of Timahoe, Co Laois. She attended Scoil Chríost Rí secondary school in Portlaoise, where she credits her science teacher, Mr Slattery, for the beginnings of her scientific career.

Michelle holds a Bachelors Degree in Biochemistry with Immunology and a Masters in Molecular Medicine from Trinity College, Dublin. She worked for a year on oesophageal cancer research in the Department of Surgery at St James’s Hospital, before beginning her PhD research in breast cancer in 2014.

Michelle’s research is funded through BREAST-PREDICT, the Irish Cancer Society’s €7.5 million collaborative cancer research centre that focusses exclusively on breast cancer research. Funded entirely by public donations, BREAST-PREDICT involves more than 50 researchers across the country pooling resources and expertise to get better outcomes for cancer patients.

At the awards ceremony Michelle was praised for 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.

“I started my PhD in 2014 with Professor Lorraine O’Driscoll in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Trinity College Dublin. I’m now going into my final year and I am so grateful for the opportunity to work as part of BREAST-PREDICT. Every day is different, I have gained so many new skills and I am so passionate about my breast cancer research.

“My parents Jim and Mary have always supported me in everything I do so I owe them a massive thank you. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support throughout the years. Lastly, I just want to say how grateful I am to everyone that donates to cancer research. We couldn’t do the work we do without your help.”

Michelle was one of six finalists who pitched their research projects to a packed audience of family, friends and Irish Cancer Society supporters. In announcing the awards, the judging panel commended all six for their strong communications skills in highlighting the importance of their work.

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 researchers can show the public the impact their work is having.  Just like the Irish Cancer Society, our cancer researchers won’t give up until cancer does.”

About Irish Cancer Society Research

This year 40,000 people in Ireland will hear the words ‘you have cancer’. Thankfully, though, cancer is no longer a death sentence – six in ten patients will survive the disease for at least 5 years.

Survival rates are improving and patients are living well with cancer and living for longer thanks to research and advances in detection and treatment. Now, more than 165,000 people are living with and beyond cancer in Ireland.

Because of the generous support of the public, the Irish Cancer Society is the leading voluntary funder of cancer research in Ireland. We’ve invested €20 million in research projects and initiatives since 2010, all made possible by donations.

Currently we are investing in the work of more than 100 cancer researchers based across the country. Collaboration, both at national and international level, is a core principle of Irish Cancer Society Research. For more information visit cancer.ie/research.

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