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Dr. Sharon McKenna, Dr. Tracey O’Donovan
Autophagy in Oesophageal Cancer
Maria is a First Class Honours graduate from the five-year integrated Pharmacy Master’s degree at UCC. She is registered with the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI) and can practice as a pharmacist. However, her passion for research has steered her in the direction of a Ph.D. In 2022, Maria was awarded an Irish Research Council Postgraduate Scholarship under the Enterprise Partnership Scheme which is co-funded by Breakthrough Cancer Research.
Maria’s research is exploring the genetic differences between oesophageal cancer cells that die in response to treatment and those that are resistant. One particular group of genes is more highly expressed in cancer cells that responded to treatment. Preliminary research shows that the expression of these genes can be modulated and this can have a significant impact on drug resistance. Maria’s research aims to understand how this is achieved and how it can be translated into better outcomes for patients. One of these genes produces a protein called USP18. This is an enzyme that removes a signal called ISG15 from other proteins and this affects their function. Maria wants to establish the key target proteins affected by this attachment and understand how this can influence the response of cancer cells to chemotherapy. Ultimately, this research will help to understand how to modify the function of this pathway, so that strategies can be developed to combat drug resistance and make treatment more effective for oesophageal cancer.