Conference Report from

Irish Association for Cancer Research Conference 2018

Crowne Plaza, Santry, Dublin 21st-23rd February 2018

By Emma Madden, Mari McMahon and Eimear O’Reilly, PhD Students at Apoptosis Research Centre, NUI Galway,

funded by SFI SIRG award and the Irish Research Council

The 54th annual IACR conference kicked off on Wednesday evening with the IACR Junior Council event for early stage researchers focusing on ‘Careers beyond the bench: Government, Funders, Industry and Science Communication’. The event was opened by John Halligan TD, Minister of State, for Training, Skills, Innovation, Research and Development who delivered a speech highlighting the continued importance of cancer research, as the incidence in Ireland is set to rise 90% by 2040. Prof. Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland, spoke about the various types of research grants that are offered at post-doctoral level and beyond; including opportunities to work abroad for 12 months; however, also stating that 90% of PhD graduates do not continue to academia. Rose Kidd, Senior VP in Global Clinical Operations for ICON advised those looking to move to industry post-PhD by telling us about her interesting career move from the bench in a pharmaceutical company to a more clinical position with ICON. Ending the session, Louise Holden, director of FH Media Consulting Ireland, discussed the importance of communicating research effectively and using social media to prevent the spread of ‘misinformation’ and ‘fake news’, particularly in cancer research.

The first day of IACR scientific session was opened by Prof. Amanda McCann, IACR president, where she displayed interesting archives of the first IACR conference held in 1964; followed by the first session of talks regarding clinical trial reports in low survival cancers:

  • Potential germline genetic testing, along with genomic and epigenomic analyses of tumour tissue was suggested to potentially aid in targeted therapy for pancreaticobiliary cancers;
  • a novel radiosensistiser may significantly improve radiation responses in oesophageal cancer by targeting mitochondrial function;
  • the expensive involved in immunotherapy was presented as a challenge for the treatment of lung cancer.

In the talks that followed, we saw the crossing of paths in engineering and medicine, where novel nanomedical technologies are being developed as a cancer therapy; such as stimuli-responsive nanomaterials, like reactive oxygen species; multidrug micelles and nanogels degraded upon certain temperature ranges for ovarian cancer; and lipogels designed to release chemotherapeutics in response to near-infrared light. These approaches are designed to limit adverse effects and enhance drug efficacy.

Oral poster presentations took place on Thursday afternoon and unusually, the judging panel included some non-scientific members, so the posters were presented as if to a lay audience. The speakers presented on a wide variety of topics ranging from the technical to the biochemical, and it was very interesting to see these complex ideas in this format. Posters were also available at the evening session for anyone more interested in the finer details.

The Irish Cancer Society-funded Scholars and Fellows gave presentations in the second afternoon session, with the post-doctoral researchers speaking first about the HDAC6 inhibitor ACY-1215 and paclitaxel treatment in ovarian cancer and the use of the APOPTO-CELL model that integrates patient profiles with computational models in colon cancer. The PhD presentations focussed on an approach to predicting prostate cancer recurrence based on statistical models, which was a departure from the standard biochemical/clinical talks and a presentation from t ARC’s own student Sukhraj who spoke about his work using the drug MLN4924 to alter the tumour microenvironment in an acute myeloid leukaemia model. Following these talks and in keeping with the ICS theme, Dr Robert O’Connor, the head of research spoke briefly about what the ICS has done so far and what they will do in the future with regards to supporting Irish cancer research.


The Irish Cancer Society lecture was given this year by Professor Clotilde Théry from the Institut Curie in Paris. Professor Théry gave a very interesting talk on the diverse types of extracellular vesicles that exist in cancer and also spoke briefly about her experiences in the creation of a society and journal specifically for extracellular vesicles. The poster sessions also took place on Thursday evening, with a number of posters presented by ARC students.

The Friday morning session began with short presentations of selected proffered papers. These proffered papers covered a wide variety of topics including the IGF-1 signalling pathway in breast cancer, JAM-A inhibition in ductal carcinoma in situ, a technical paper dealing with the detection of EGFR mutations in lung cancer, p53 in colorectal cancer, the role of metformin and the immune system in obese individuals at higher risk for cancer before finishing with a presentation that was relevant to the previous evening’s talk about extra-cellular miRNAs in neuroblastoma.

The Friday mid-morning session covered cellular stress and cancer and started off with a talk from ARC’s Dr Susan Logue detailing her work with the IRE1 inhibitor MKC8866 in triple-negative breast cancer. This was followed by a talk from ARC collaborator Dr Eric Chevet from INSERM U1242 in the Université de Rennes 1 focussing on his work on IRE1 in glioblastoma. The session ended with a talk from Professor Tony Letai from Harvard Medical School which covered how BH3 profiling and the information it gives about apoptosis could be integrated into clinical treatment.

The second half of Friday was sub-divided into different sessions.

  • The first session entitled ‘Emerging techniques in biomarker discovery, drug development and patient stratification’ Dr. Darran O’ Connor (RSCI) discussed what we can learn from case-studies describing different medical anomalies in the era of genomics, and how these findings could influence clinical implications.
  • Professor Paraic Kenny (Kabara Cancer Institutie, WI, USA) discussed precision oncology approaches in breast cancer, where next-generation sequencing can be implemented to determine the best treatment approaches.
  • Anant Madabhushi (Care Western Reserve University, OH, USA) discussed the prognostic and predictive radiomics and pathomics and the implications in precision medicine. Computational Imaging and Personalised Diagnostics (CCIPD) developed at Western Reserve University has been used to capture intra-tumoural heterogeneity and modelling tumours. Dr. Madabhushi further discussed how these approaches can be used to predict disease outcome, progression and reoccurrence.

After the coffee break, the EACR Young Scientist Awardees, Naoise Synott and Martin Barr discussed their work.

  • Naoise spoke about TP53 mutation in TNBC, TP53 is present in more than 80% of TNBCs. When TP53-mutated TNBC cells are treated with PK11007, their cell proliferation is inhibited, apoptosis occurs, and this highlights a new approach for the treatment of TNBC.
  • Martin spoke about targeting components of the DNA repair pathway in chemo-resistant lung cancer, in particular targeting XRCC6BP, a DNA repair gene. Used in combination with conventional chemotherapeutics, this could open a new therapeutic window.

The meeting concluded with the presentation of the IACR Cancer Researcher Medal to the family of the late, Professor Patrick G. Johnston in honour of his outstanding work in the field of cancer research.

The evening continued on with the Gala dinner and award presentations, followed by a ‘céilí’ to get people out and dancing!