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Ms. Alana Cutliffe begins Irish Research Council funded PhD project on oesophageal cancer

1 Sep 2021

Ms. Alana Cutliffe begins an Irish Research Council (IRC)-funded PhD project on oesophageal cancer, under the supervision of Dr. John Mackrill (Department of Physiology) and Dr. Sharon McKenna (Cork Cancer Research Centre) this September. This project is funded by the IRC Enterprise Partnership Scheme. The title of this grant is: “The Examination of the Effects of Acid-Exposure on Oesophageal-Cancer Cells: Examining its Effects on Calcium (Ca2+) Signals which Promote Cancer Growth”. 


Oesophageal cancers (OCs) are the sixth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide. Oesophageal Adenocarcinoma (OAC) is the most common type in Western Europe, with its incidence notably rising. OAC has poor survival rates, with a lot of patients exhibiting resistance to current chemotherapies. The top ranking risk factor for OAC development is “Barrett’s Oesophagus” (BO), where the cells normally lining the oesophagus change in shape, size and function. Another risk factor, linked to BO, is gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, where stomach acid and bile acids enter and irritate the oesophagus.


Alana's PhD project will largely focus on unexamined molecular targets in OAC: Ca2+ signalling proteins. Ca2+ is a messenger in the cell and regulates several aspects of cell biology. The amount of Ca2+ in a cell is controlled by Ca2+ signalling proteins, a family with over one thousand members. Some of these proteins sense acid outside the cell and modify Ca2+ within the cell accordingly. In cancer cells however, such modifications result in tumour growth and spread.


Little to no work has been carried out on the distribution of Ca2+ signalling proteins in the cell and OAC patient survival. Even less research has been carried out on how certain Ca2+ signalling proteins may be sensing acidic environments and be remodelled to favour cancer formation. Working with OAC and normal oesophageal cells, we will use state-of-the-art laboratory techniques to investigate whether OAC is driven by Ca2+ signalling and if this signalling is, in turn, stimulated by acid. The characterization of such pathway(s) would aid in the development of novel chemotherapeutic drugs.

Click here to learn more about the work of Breakthrough Cancer Research Ireland.

Click here to learn more about the work of the Irish Research Council.


Physiology Department


Western Gateway Building Western Road University College Cork