Summer Placements

Kevin Baker

Kevin Baker

During my third year of the Biomedical Science programme I decided that I would like to further my laboratory skills and knowledge by obtaining experience in a research laboratory over the summer. I made a list of disciplines which I had the most interest in and then subsequently read through some of the papers and backgrounds of the academic staff. This led me to contacting Dr Elizabeth Brint in hope of obtaining a place in her laboratory to perform research in the discipline of Immunology. Dr Brint was very supportive and helped me successfully obtain an 8-week research funding with The Wellcome Trust, a biomedical research charity based in London.

‘’To determine whether expression of the IL-36 cytokines or its receptor represent potential biomarkers for colon cancer progression’’ was the title of the project Dr Brint and I devised. The inflammatory response plays a key role in tumour promotion and tumour progression. This has made the study of the immune system’s signalling molecules extremely interesting due to their potential significance in the inflammatory response and subsequently cancer. This project aimed to investigate some of these signalling molecules (IL-1 family cytokines) and to observe them in cancerous tissue and tumour cells. The results obtained from this project revealed that production of these signalling molecules in tumour cells was increased by the presence of lipopolysaccharide, a molecule commonly found on the outer surface of Gram negative bacteria. Flagellin, a bacteria-associated protein, was shown to increase tumour cell production of another signalling molecule of the same family (IL-36γ). This project also showed that some IL-1 family members (IL-36α and IL36γ) were increased in tumour tissue when compared to adjacent normal tissue. These findings imply that the IL-36 signalling molecules may indeed play an important role in inflammatory signalling and colitis associated colorectal cancer therefore these signalling molecules may become useful therapeutic targets/markers with further study of their role in colitis and subsequent disease. The data generated will be used in further studies of these cytokines.

During the summer I believe I greatly advanced my laboratory skills and knowledge. Initially, I was supervised closely by Dr Brint and some of the post-graduate students in the lab but was allowed to become more independent as the summer went on, giving me a great sense of achievement and responsibility. I performed techniques that included cell culturing, RNA extraction and quantification, cDNA synthesis and quantitative real-time PCR. These skills, along with the vast improvement of report writing and lab documentation, will be of great help to me when I begin my Final Year Project in the coming year. I was surprised how much I genuinely enjoyed the experience and would definitely encourage any third year students interested in seeking research experience to pursue a summer placement opportunity.

Kevin

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Alanna Dunlea and Averil Kiely

Averil Kiely & Alanna Dunlea

From left: Averil and Alanna.

We carried out non-funded research placement with Cork Cancer Research Centre for four weeks under the supervision of Dr Sharon McKenna and Dr Tracey O'Donavan.

The project was based on oesophageal cancer and the role of autophagy (a cell death and survival mechanism) in this type of cancer. The project involved growing two oesophageal cancer cell lines. Alanna's research was focused on the OE21 cancer cell line where as Averil's research was focused on the KYSE450 cancer cell line. We treated these cells with various drugs and drug combinations. While learning techniques such as cytospin, clonogenic assays and CYTO ID autophagy detection assays, it was possible to determine whether these cells were sensitive or resistant to the chemotherapy. Overall, we gained an invaluable experience and gained an insight into how a medical research laboratory works. We were also granted the incredible opportunity of becoming volunteers with Breakthrough Cancer Research and developed an understanding of how funding for such important research is acquired. 

Averil and Alanna 

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Luke Gibbons

Luke Gibbons

I was awarded a Wellcome Trust Biomedical Vacation Scholarship to do an 8-week research project under the supervision of Professor Jim O’Mahony in the Centre for Research in Advanced Therapeutic Engineering (CREATE) in MTU.

My project involved the study of Bacteriophages (viruses which infect bacteria). These bacteriophages are the most abundant life forms on earth and are nature's way of controlling bacterial populations The use of bacteriophage therapy as an alternative/supplement to traditional antimicrobial therapy in human infection and Agriculture is an idea that has been increasing in popularity, phage therapy centres are located in Poland and Georgia and companies, such as Intralytix (USA), have approval from the U.S Food and Drug Administration for use of their Phage preparations in meat/poultry products. This project resulted in the isolation of a bacteriophage which was capable of infecting and killing a highly resistant bacterial species called Staphylococcus haemolyticus. This bacteria belongs to a class of bacteria called Coagulase Negative Staphylococci (CoNS) and is part of the human skin flora. These bacteria are the third most common bacteria seen in hospital acquired infections associated with bacteria in the blood (Bacteremia) (due to insertion of medical devices such as catheters). The Bacteriophage isolated in my work may form part of a therapeutic Bacteriophage cocktail used to treat infections of Staphylococcus haemolyticus/CoNS, when traditional antimicrobials do not work.

Luke

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James Harte

Every summer, the Amgen Scholars Programme provides students with the opportunity to engage in hands-on research at eminent institutions in Europe, working alongside prominent academic scientists and contributing to the advancement of scientific endeavour. The Programme is designed to allow students to advance their learning and to spark further interest in scientific careers. 

During my third year, I was extremely fortunate to be part of the Programme at the University of Cambridge, investigating the role of therapeutic inhibitors of prolyl hydroxylase domain enzymes on the multimerisation of physiological proteins.

My time as an Amgen Scholar was simply incredible, an exciting journey of endless discovery as a scientist and as an individual. In the laboratory, through interactions with creative, imaginative and inspirational mentors, I learned how to approach problems logically and methodically; how to collect, organise and analyse data, as well as how to interpret the resulting information; and, how to communicate scientific results effectively and efficiently. Outside the laboratory, I made lifelong friends from all around Europe; the camaraderie and closeness established during the Programme cannot be understated, because working and socialising alongside like-minded people is perhaps one of the signature aspects of this outstanding opportunity. 

If any student is considering a summer research opportunity, I would highly recommend the Amgen Scholars Programme - there is no experience quite like it anywhere in the world!

James 

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Jennifer Hough

Jennifer Hough

I was a summer intern with the TRUST (Thyroid Hormone Replacement in Subclinical Hypothyroidism) Thyroid trial and did my research in the UCC Department of Epidemiology and Public Health. The title of my project was ‘‘The cost implications of conducting a risk assessment prior to developing a monitoring plan for a clinical trial: The TRUST Thyroid Trial Experience’’.  I was funded by the HRB-TMRN. My supervisor was Professor Patricia Kearney. Before starting, I knew nothing about clinical trials but now I understand ICH-GCP guidelines, patient recruitment, blind and double blind testing confounders and ethics amongst other things. I evaluated the process of conducting a risk assessment prior to developing a monitoring plan for the TRUST trial. TRUST is a new research project in five European Universities which looks at sub-clinical hypothyroidism in older adults (>65 years). 

The majority of my time was spent carrying out desk-research in UCC. I did a lot of research on risk-based monitoring and read journal articles and reports.  I obtained monitoring plans and reports from the four TRUST sites i.e. Bern, Leiden, Glasgow and Cork and analysed the data. I drew up a comparison table to compare the actions of different sites. I also did a lot of research into costing. In addition to this I did some reading into paper-based risk-assessment tools.

Another thing that I found fascinating about the research experience was the opportunity to carry out research outside UCC at times. The TRUST Thyroid trial is run in the Mercy Hospital clinical research facility and I was given the invaluable opportunity of visiting the site several times and liaising with staff members. In addition, I met with patients during their close out visits and heard about their experience of participating in the trial for the last 4 years. I also got the opportunity to attend the TRUST Thyroid trial monthly meeting. This gave me the opportunity to meet all of the members of the TRUST team as well as ask any questions that I had. I sat in on SWAT (Study Within a Trial) meetings too. This enabled me to gain a better understanding of the research process. I also got a chance to sit in on a PhD review meeting.

Working on a clinical trial was an inestimable opportunity. As a student who did not want to go into laboratory research it was a fantastic alternative for summer research. If you're looking for a research experience with a bit of a twist...summer clinical trial research could be for you!

Jennifer

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Amy Keane

Amy Keane

In 2nd Year Biomedical Science....

I was a member of Cork iGEM 2015. For our project we further developed the bacterial based DNA detection system (from iGEM UCC 2014). This has the potential to be used as a diagnostic test, therefore a large proportion of the lab work involved investigating the systems sensitivity and specificity, as well as sequence and plasmid design. We spent a lot of time researching into what pathogens our system could detect and we made the decision to detect Mycobacterium tuberculosis after it was revealed that in the developed and developing worlds a quick alternative to PCR would prove to be useful in the detection of  M. tuberculosis. ”

Six of our team members travelled to Boston and where we were successful in securing a Gold Medal, a symbol of reaching the highest set of requirements set out by iGEM judges. To get this, we submitted four functional biological parts to the iGEM registry, collaborated with another team, presented a functional prototype for our device and carried out significant work in investigating the impact and background of our project. Our team was also nominated for an award for “Best Integrated Human Practices”. This award recognised that we investigated the need for a cheap molecular diagnostic by surveying a Malawi hospital lab and speaking with Dr Brigid Lucey, who has experience in Irish molecular diagnostic lab facilities, and integrating our findings into our project. This was done through the creation of a Mycobacterium tuberculosis detector, for which a need was highlighted. The competition was a great opportunity for us as Biomedical Science students to gain a greater understanding of the development of a diagnostic instrument. It highlighted also the importance of precision and accuracy in our field to maintain a high standard of results.

iGEM is unlike any other research project offered by Universities in that it is student-led. Working on an interdisciplinary team allowed us to share a variety of skills and knowledge with each other. I admit that having the responsibility to make important decisions regarding the experiments was something I found challenging at the beginning, considering it was my first time participating on a summer research project, but I soon learned to have confidence in my decisions. I gained extremely valuable lab experience and this is something I will carry with me throughout my future career. The giant jamboree in Boston showcased fantastic projects and it was great to share the results of our hard work all summer with people also interested in synthetic biology. It was an incredible experience to be on the Cork iGEM Team 2015 and I wholeheartedly encourage people to avail of the wonderful opportunities that iGEM has to offer.

In 3rd Year Biomedical Science....

I secured a place on the Amgen Scholars Programme in the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering ETH Zurich, Switzerland.

My project was entitled “Liposomal enzyme cascade on chip”. The aim of my project was to create an enzyme cascade on a microfluidic chip involving the use of liposomal encapsulated enzymes. Here, liposomes were chosen as a simple model of the cell membrane to mimic cellular compartmentalization and diffusion over phospholipid membranes. Two enzymes were used in the cascade, biotinylated glucose oxidase (bGOx) and liposomal encapsulated horseradish peroxidase (HRP). During liposome production some of the HRP was encapsulated in the liposomes. The enzyme cascade involved the use of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), produced by the oxidation of glucose by GOx, which diffused across the phospholipid membrane into the vesicles. Here, H2O2 acted as an oxidation agent for HRP to catalyze the reaction of Amplex UltraRed to red-fluorescent resorufin. The presence of fluorescence in the area of the chip where the vesicles were immobilized, and not in areas where the immobilized vesicles were absent, indicated a successful reaction along with successful chamber separation. This system is useful to study biological reactions that involve permeation of reactants over biomimetic membranes. Different enzymes and substrates could be utilized, therefore giving the system an adjustable quality.

I thoroughly enjoyed this research experience and also enjoyed meeting new people and making new friends.

Amy

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Jack Kenny

Jack Kenny, Fourth Year Biomedical Science

During my third year of Biomedical Science, I completed a summer research placement in my area of interest, molecular virology. I worked in the Molecular Virology Diagnostic Research Laboratory (MVDRL) carrying out a phylogenetic study of 3a HCV core proteins. I learned a variety of techniques and problem-solving skills which have stood by me during my final year, especially my research project.

In addition, I was given an opportunity to practice scientific report writing and presentation skills. I also got experience in managing a project. Completing this also was a great addition to CV for applying for further postgraduate and job opportunities.

I would highly recommend asking lectures/researchers in areas you’re interested in about undergraduate research projects, especially if you are unsure about what you want to do after you graduate.

Jack

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Dawn Keyes

Dawn Keyes, Fourth Year Biomedical Science

In the summer, following my third year of Biomedical Science, I applied for and completed a UCC SEFS summer research placement in my particular area of interest: molecular virology. For a total of 8 weeks, I worked in a virology lab under the supervision of Dr Martina Scallan of UCC School of Microbiology. My project was based on identifying the role of intercellular protein HABP1 in alphavirus replication.  

The experience that I received over the course of the 8 weeks has proven to be invaluable. I gained hands-on experience in a vast range of techniques such as PCR, electrophoresis, CRISPR/cas9 genetic engineering, cell culture, DNA extraction and much more. I also had the opportunity to develop my academic skills such as report-writing, problem-solving and presentation skills. The knowledge I gained from working in the lab has been incredibly beneficial so far in regards to my final year project. It will also be a good starting point for the future, particularly for anyone who hopes to obtain a position in a research laboratory after completing their degree.

I would highly recommend applying for a summer research placement for anyone who is interested in a particular area of science, or a career in academia or even just to gain experience for their CV and their fourth year project.

Dawn

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Aidan Murphy

Aidan Murphy, Fourth Year Biomedical Science

When I first started my degree in Biomedical Science I began to develop a curiosity into understanding the inner workings of a research laboratory. I was just about to enter 4th year and I knew that my final year project was approaching. Based on these two factors I decided that it was the perfect opportunity for me to reach out to some lecturers and inquire about doing research over the summer holidays. I took some time to investigate some of the research that was taking place in UCC in order to pinpoint the specific area that I wanted to research in and immediately became interested in the work taking place in the renowned APC Microbiome institute. When SEFS released the list of project proposals in October I applied to work with Dr David Clarke in the APC Microbiome Institute. My project involved identifying genes which conferred bile resistance in bacteroides.

The 8-week experience that I received during my summer studentship proved to be invaluable. I met and interacted with many incredible and talented individuals who were extremely helpful and gracious during my internship. It was great to get a sense of the atmosphere of working in a research laboratory and to get tips and advice from other postgraduates working in the laboratory. I had hands on experience in a vast range of techniques like PCR, electrophoresis, genetic recombination techniques and much more. The knowledge and experience I gained from working in the lab was incredibly beneficial and has really made me feel more at ease and confident when working in a laboratory setting.

I couldn’t recommend doing summer research work highly enough. It has really opened my eyes to the roles and responsibilities that one has when they undertake research work. Doing the research has improved my technical, communication, project planning, problem solving, deductive and interpersonal skills. It will no doubt prove to be very useful to have that level of familiarity with the lab environment when undertaking my 4th year project. It has also certainly piqued my interest in perhaps pursuing further research work in my own career.

Aidan

Jessica Neville

Jessica Neville

During the third year of my Biomedical Science degree, I developed a real interest in completing a summer research placement.

After receiving information from Dr Sinéad Kerins on the benefits of completing such a placement, I started to research academic staff working in research area I had an interest in. I contacted one of my lecturers, Dr Collette Hand and expressed my interest in completing a project with her. Dr Hand assisted me in writing a project proposal and we applied for funding from Wellcome Trust. Our application was successful and I attained a research scholarship for eight weeks.

My research project was titled "Do Irish Periodic Paralysis patients have a common genetic origin" and I discovered that there is a common genetic haplotype in Irish Periodic Paralysis patients. I presented my results at the 18th Meeting of the Irish Society of Human Genetics conference in poster format (150831-JessicaNeville-HaplotypePoster-ISHG). My abstract was published by the Ulster Medical Journal (1509-JessicaNeville-UlsterMedicalJournal-084(3)200).

The experience I gained from this project was invaluable; it opened my eyes to the ever continuing role of research and its importance in the world today to patients and their treatment. I learned how to review research papers, how to conduct new laboratory techniques, how to keep a laboratory day book. I highly recommend doing a Summer research placement.

Jessica

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Stephen Power

Stephen Power

During my third year in the Biomedical Science programme, I successfully applied to conduct a summer research project under the supervision of Dr Cora O’Neill in UCC’s Biosciences Institute. Supported by a student scholarship from the Biochemical Society, I spent eight weeks in the neurodegeneration lab studying Alzheimer’s disease.

My project focused on investigating the relationship between neuronal insulin resistance and Fyn, a member of the Src family of protein tyrosine kinases, in Alzheimer’s brain compared to a normal brain. A few weeks into my placement, I was capable of working independently and gained experience with commonly employed biochemical methods such as Western Immunoblotting and Immunofluorescence.

Working alongside accommodating and motivated Masters students was a fantastic experience and aside from conducting novel research I had the opportunity to attend several seminars in a wide variety of fields. Toward the end of my placement, I improved upon my scientific writing skills as I was required to submit a detailed report of my work to the Biochemical Society.

I would thoroughly recommend a summer placement before starting fourth year. At the time of writing, I am currently working through my Final Year Project and the skills and knowledge I acquired over the eight weeks are incredibly helpful. Overall, the experience itself was very enjoyable and provided an extremely valuable insight into the world of research and the dynamics of a working laboratory.

Stephen

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Katie O'Brien

Katie O'Brien, Biomedical Science, UCC & Women in STEM 2020

At the end of my third year of Biomedical Science, I decided to apply for a position as a Medical Laboratory Aide at Cork University Hospital. I applied for the position to see how the skills I had developed in college could be applied to a clinical setting. This job gave me the opportunity to fully understand the important work that Medical Scientists are doing each day to ensure that the patients are at the centre of the work being done.

Working as a laboratory aide is a great opportunity to see how all of the components of the laboratory come together. The laboratory is centred around quality management systems that ensure the most accurate results are available to the patients. The needs of the patient are at the heart of the work and my time in the laboratory really put that into perspective for me. 

I would highly recommend applying for a position as a Medical Laboratory Aide for anyone who is interested in experiencing what working in the clinical laboratory is like. This job really opened my eyes to the importance of Medical Scientists in healthcare.

The things you can learn from working in a clinical laboratory will be invaluable to you in your Final Year of college. I can say with confidence that I found a number of modules more relatable as a result of my experience in the lab.

Katie

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Ciaran O'Halloran

Ciaran O'Halloran

Over the summer I spent a period of 8 weeks working with Dr Liam Fanning of the Department of Medicine in Cork University Hospital (CUH). I was encouraged by the presentation talks given by the fourth years (last year’s third year biomedical science students) to pursue a summer research placement. To help organise and arrange this placement, I met with Dr Sinead Kerins, who put me in touch with Dr Liam Fanning. I received funding for the placement through a successful application with the Wellcome Trust.

The project I carried out as a research assistant focused on identifying the amino acid correlates potentially responsible for the difference in infectivity between two samples of Hepatitis C isolate from the same patient. The project was performed in order to add knowledge to the role of particular amino acids in Hepatitis C virus hepatocellular entry. The information from this study could potentially be utilised in future Hepatitis C vaccine production. During the period of the placement I received training and experience with a number of useful laboratory techniques and processes such as viral pseudoparticle preparation, Luciferase assays, cell culturing and plasmid isolation. 

The work done during my summer research project has since been published in PLOS One.

Ciaran

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Ian O'Keeffe

Ian O'Keeffe

I spent the summer as a Research Scientist for an American start-up called Spira. The company was based in Cork for the summer and took part in the IndieBio Accelerator programme which was based in UCC.

The aim of the company is to develop a live culture beverage made from Spirulina. As a research scientist my role involved using a wide array of technical skills including; PCR, Transformation of Algae, Growing and Maintaining Algal cultures and the use of automated pipetting systems. As I result of my role with the company, I had an opportunity to present on their behalf at the EBN conference which took place in Guimaraes, Porto in Portugal.

Ian

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Kiera O'Leary

Kiera O'Leary, Biomedical Science, UCC

During the summer of my third year in biomedical science, I had the opportunity to work as a Medical Laboratory Aide in the Haematology department at Cork University Hospital (CUH). As a biomedical science student, this gave me the chance to better my understanding of the running of a clinical laboratory, as well as putting much of the theory I had learned into perspective. Haematology is a discipline that I thoroughly enjoy studying, so I was delighted to be able to work in this department. As well as this, I was working with many medical scientists, a career that I wish to peruse in the future. This allowed me to see the day-to-day work they conducted, and ask any questions I had. Much of the work I carried out during my time was focused on the pre-analytical processing of samples. I was exposed to the different levels of urgencies of tests, and the protocols in place for accepting and rejecting samples. I felt as though I was given lots of responsibility by working on a bench dealing with samples from the hospital wards from extremely ill patients.

Throughout my time in the haematology department in CUH, the importance of the medical scientist was made even more clear to me. Now more than ever, during this COVID-19 global pandemic, the need for clinical laboratories and medical scientists is at the forefront of healthcare.

What I enjoyed most about my time working in a clinical laboratory was that I can now comprehend how a clinical lab is run, how large sample volumes are dealt with and why there are so many different employees with so many different roles required in a lab. I am delighted that I was able to keep my role as an MLA as a part time job throughout my final year which I am currently undertaking.

Kiera

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Grace O'Mahony

Grace O'Mahony

During the summer recess, I was funded by the Health Research Board (HRB) for eight weeks to conduct research in the lab of Dr Ken Nally, School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, in the APC Microbiome Institute, UCC.

The research project was an immensely positive experience and was my first exposure to working in a research lab. I decided to apply for the internship as I hope to undertake a PhD in the future and thus I was eager to gain an insight into what lab research entails.

The project I worked on was centred on comparing the gene expression patterns of the CXCR3 superfamily genes in different gut disorders - a major point of research at the moment in Dr Nally’s lab.

I worked independently during the course of the project, with some guidance and instruction from a PhD student and postdoctoral researcher. As a result, I became much more confident in my abilities. Throughout the course of the summer, I not only developed a new set of laboratory skills but I also met a plethora of inspiring scientists with a passion for exploring research, from whom I received invaluable advice and guidance. In addition, I gained an appreciation into the importance of conducting biomedical research as a means of furthering our knowledge into the mechanisms and treatment of disease.

As a whole, the project allowed me to comprehend what working in a research lab encompasses with the ultimate goal of trying to solve unanswered questions. The experience will certainly influence my future decisions about my career choice and has made pursuing scientific research and a PhD in this area of research extremely appealing to me.

Grace

Cliona O'Shea

I realised as I began to write this testimonial that I needed to reassure all potential Amgen Scholars Program applicants-to be, that I never thought I would secure a place on this program, and that you should put any doubts behind you and make as many applications as you can, because this is a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Being a student on the Amgen Scholars Cambridge program had so many benefits. I worked in the laboratory of the Rupert Beale group in the Virology Department in Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge (this group has since re-located to the Francis Crick Institute, London). I was given a research project on a signalling pathway occurring in cells infected with Influenza A virus. I had the chance to work on a specific area which I was passionate about, where else might one get such a chance? Also, it was my own independent project, which allowed me to learn to think for myself, plan my own experiments, and manage my own time (with some guidance from a supervisor, don’t worry!). These skills were invaluable for my final year project this year, and will be attractive to future employers, or on a Masters/ PhD application.

The centres where the students are placed have the most up to date, high-tech, plentiful supply of research equipment and reagents- I was privileged to have the opportunity to do confocal microscopy, work with DNA sequencing data, do my own immunofluorescence microscopy, culture and maintain my own human cell line, do site-directed mutagenesis, and so much more.

The other fantastic side to this program for me is the fact that I lived with and spent my evenings and weekends with 19 other students from all over Europe, and I now have like-minded friends for life, and potential collaborators for the future. In January I actually went to Scotland to stay with one of the other scholars I met, along with another scholar from Galway. In April, I re-united with the friends I made in the virology department at the Microbiology Society Annual Conference in Belfast- more friends for life.

In addition, the Amgen Scholars Program is spectacularly well-run, there is support from the moment you are accepted into the Program, to the moment you fly home. I can honestly say that this Program has shaped my future, and has opened doors to me for my future projects and career which would never have been opened otherwise. I can’t encourage you enough to apply. If you have any questions or would like to know more, my email address is oshea.cliona@gmail.com

Cliona 

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Leanne O'Sullivan

Leanne O'Sullivan

As final year & third year undergraduate students of the Biomedical Science programme we have had the amazing opportunity to be a part of the iGEM or “International Genetically Engineered Machine” competition over the past two years, under the supervision of Dr Paul Young and Professor Tommie McCarthy of the School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, UCC. This project allowed us to carry out a summer research project in the field of synthetic biology.

iGEM began in 2003 in MIT in the USA as a small competition between students within the college. It quickly expanded to include other US universities and has now grown to become a competition involving 280 teams from all over the world. The iGEM competition is unlike any other research opportunity available to students in that it is entirely student-led and it has a fun atmosphere also. Synthetic biology is a relatively new field of study that combines techniques from biotechnology, molecular biology, genetics and microbiology.

iGEM 2014

I was on Ireland's first entry to iGEM in 2014. We carried out two projects in this first year. The first relating to the synthesis in E. coli of intermediate filaments found in Hagfish slime for use in textiles and medical devices. The second was the construction of a novel bacteria -based DNA-detection system as a low cost alternative to PCR and other molecular diagnostic tools. As a biomedical science student, I worked mainly with the diagnostic project. This work involved a lot of sequence analysis and design using bioinformatics tool, Benchling.

Our team was lucky enough to secure funding to travel to Boston in October 2014 to present our results. The iGEM Giant Jamboree is an event beyond imagination. As we heard, it’s “like a rock concert for nerds”. iGEM places heavy emphasis on open sourcing all information with every team publishing their work on an online wiki prior to the event and also submitting their functional biological parts to a registry so they can be used by future teams. Over the course of the 5-day event we presented our poster and presentation, attended other teams’ presentations, met other team members at social events and availed of the many useful resources organised such as career fairs and workshops in bioinformatics. At the grand final, the top three teams presented their project again to the all attendees of the competition. Unfortunately, UCC iGEM did not win a prize in its first year but we gained valuable insight into the working of the competition that will no doubt help future teams, and when time came to create UCC iGEM team 2015, I volunteered to return to the team to provide the experience of a past member.

iGEM 2014

In 2015, Cork iGEM became Ireland’s second entry to the competition. We learned in our first year at iGEM that the competition is not just about lab work. For any scientific project to have an impact, it must be relevant to a real-life problem. One of our team members was in a Malawi hospital on placement as a medical student and this allowed us the opportunity to spread the idea of genetic engineering to places where it is unheard of. This team member even met and spoke with the local witchdoctor about synthetic biology! We attended the iGEM Jamboree in Boston and won gold!

iGEM gives members an amazing opportunity to escape the bubble of a research lab and really think about how their lab work affects the outside world. It encouraged us all to talk about our work both within and outside the science community. This gave us valuable experience in communicating ideas to the public in a way that was simple and informative. It was also encouraging to see the bigger picture of a scientific research project, which is often forgotten when working in the lab.

Overall the experience was incredible, with many highs and lows. I gained invaluable lab experience, the confidence to work independently and the drive to work hard to overcome the inevitable problems faced in carrying out research . Working with a student team was also a great experience as we all learned to contribute our many skills to make the project the very best it could be.

I would highly encourage any student interested to join an iGEM team, or if not available in their university, to approach a lecturer for support in setting up a team. iGEM is much more than a summer project and in the end all the hard work is definitely worth it.

Leanne

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Joseph Phelan

Joseph Phelan, Biomedical Science, UCC

The summer prior to final year I worked as a Medical Laboratory Aide (MLA) in the biochemistry department of Cork University Hospital, which provided an invaluable insight in the pre-analytical processing of patient samples.

The day-to-day work mainly involved sorting, labelling, and centrifuging patient samples as well as booking in tests for these samples into the laboratory information system. I also got a brief introduction to urinalysis and the Internal Care Medicine (ICM) bench, which involved the processing of urgent in-house samples, measuring for analytes such as troponin as an indicator of myocardial infarction.

 

The work gave me the opportunity develop my teamwork skills, as I worked alongside other MLAs and medical scientists to provide results which would ultimately impact patient diagnosis and care. In addition, I got to experience the clinical lab prior to 5th year placement, and got the opportunity to ask questions about the clinical application about tests we had learned about in college.

The lab was an incredibly busy work environment and the work was in some ways demanding, however the experience and insight gained was truely invaluable.

Joseph

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Regina Walsh

Regina Walsh, Biomedical Science

In 2nd Year Biomedical Science....

During my second year of Biomedical Science, I was successful in obtaining a place on the UCC iGEM team for 2016

iGEM is an international competition in synthetic biology that is open to secondary/high school students, undergraduates and postgraduates. The objective of the competition is to research and present new and exciting ideas that can solve some of the world’s problems with the aid of synthetic biology.

For our project, we worked with the bacterium Lactococcus lactis to evaluate its potential as a protein delivery platform which could be used in prophylaxis or therapy for a variety of diseases. The disease we honed in on was an infectious disease called Leishmaniasis. Many techniques were employed including Gibson assembly, transformation, PCR to name but a few. All our hard work culminated in the final competition in Boston which featured teams from 42 countries all over the world. iGEM provided me with first-hand experience into research and enabled me to get to know and work with students from other courses in the university.

In 3rd Year Biomedical Science....

During summer 2016, I became familiar with the biotech accelerator program RebelBio which is located in Cork. This program provides the means for an individual with a unique Biotech idea to convert it into a functional product that can help people, in just three months. During the summer after third year I became involved with one particular RebelBio startup, Phyteau Functionals. This company has researched and developed a nutraceutical which can be used to treat prediabetes thus preventing type 2 diabetes. Some of my responsibilities included planning experimentation along with organising an informal trial and informing the public of the product via social media. Through my experience I came to appreciate how intertwined entrepreneurship is with scientific research.

I would highly recommend any Biomedical science student to seek out research experience before starting fourth year if they have an interest in a career in academia or just to gain lab experience in advance of the fourth year project.

Regina

Regina's career profile on Linkedin

Biomedical Science

School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, University College Cork (UCC)

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