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Meet our school Researchers – Aisling Heeran - PhD Student Surgery

Aisling Heeran graduated from RCSI with a B.Sc. in Pharmacy in 2013 followed by a Masters in Pharmacy in RCSI in 2014. Aisling’s keen intellectual curiosity then led her to undertake an M.Sc. in Translational Oncology in 2016. She is now undertaking a Ph.D funded by the Irish Research Council under the supervision of Prof. Jacintha O'Sullivan and Dr Niamh Lynam-Lennon. Aisling’s project looks at the role of the radiation-induced bystander effect in rectal cancer patients. Rectal cancer occurs in the lower part of the bowel and has a poor survival rate. Radiation treatment is given to reduce tumour size before surgery. However, ~80% of patients either achieve a partial response or no response to radiotherapy as their tumours are resistant to treatment. Radiation-induced Bystander Effects (RIBE) occurs when cells in the body that have not received radiation act as if they have. This occurs because cells that have received radiation send a signal to these non-irradiated cells. We believe that higher levels of RIBE following radiation treatment results in resistance to treatment. This project will be the first to study this in patients and link it to clinical significance. We will focus on a part of the cell called the mitochondria which are the energy powerhouses of the cell and examine its importance in controlling radiation response. We will importantly identify different factors released from radiation-treated tumours to determine what factors might be responsible for controlling RIBE and their effect on immune cells, which have an important role in eradicating cancer. This project is the first to link RIBE with treatment-response and will improve treatment, quality of life and survival for patients. As well as her unabated appetite for research, Aisling is a keen triathlete and enjoys triathlons in her spare time.