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Meet our researcher - Jason McGrath – PhD Student Surgery

Jason graduated in Biomedical science in Queen’s University Belfast in 2014 followed by a Master’s degree in the Molecular Pathology of Cancer in 2018. Jason is currently undertaking a Ph.D in the Department of Surgery funded by Provost’s Ph.D Project Awards, under the supervision of Dr. Stephen G. Maher and Prof. Maeve Lowery. Jason’s project investigates the role of microRNA-31 in regulating chemosensitivity and radiosensitivity in pancreatic cancer.

Most pancreatic cancer (PC) patients will die within 3-8 months of diagnosis. With a lack of early signs and symptoms, many patients present with advanced disease, where the cancer has spread to other organs. As such, more than 75% of PC patients are not eligible for surgery, and the only alternative treatments include chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. Unfortunately, PC is typically poorly responsive to chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Patients achieve only modest extension of life with these therapies, frequently at a cost of significant side effects with a negative impact to quality of life. MicroRNA-31 (miR-31), is a small genetic molecule that regulates the biology of normal cells, including the cells of the pancreas. It is frequently deleted or mutated in up to 90% of PC tumours. Previous work from this lab group has demonstrated the importance of miR-31 in several cancer types in controlling chemo- and radio-sensitivity. Since microRNA-based therapies have entered into clinical trials, they are now recognised as a promising generation of personalized therapeutics for cancer; the TCD team aim to determine how miR-31 regulates PC cell sensitivity to chemo- and radio-therapy, thus determining if miR-31 replacement therapy might be a potential treatment addition to enhance patient responses to conventional chemo-radio-therapies.

In his spare time, Jason is a competitive cross country runner and has won numerous awards for competing competitions across Northern Ireland.