Local scientist Dr. Seodhna Lynch spearheading cancer research in memory of late aunt Teresa

A local scientist spearheading world class cancer research at Ulster University has spoken of how losing an aunt to the disease inspired her to dedicate her studies and working life to developing treatments and supports.

Ulster University Postdoctoral Research Associate, Dr. Seodhna Lynch, is leading research on the pre-clinical development of a novel drug candidate for childhood cancer and is encouraging women to consider a rewarding career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

Seodhna was inspired to follow a career in cancer research after her beloved aunt Teresa died from breast cancer at 45 years old.

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“Growing up, I was always interested in science and medicine, but it was when three of my aunts were diagnosed with breast cancer, and after my aunt Teresa died from breast cancer, that I decided I wanted to pursue a career in cancer research.

Dr. Seodhna Lynch

"I have dedicated my studies and working life to creating new pathways to support cancer research,” she said.

After studying A-Levels in Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics and Geography at the Convent Grammar School and Holy Cross College in Strabane, Seodhna went on to study her undergraduate degree in Biomedical Sciences before completing her Master’s in Biomedical Sciences at Ulster University’s Coleraine campus specialising in Haematology.

She then completed her PhD in prostate cancer research with Dr. Declan McKenna in the Genomic Medicine Research Group, Coleraine.

The Ulster University researcher has worked in cancer research for over ten years and has worked specifically in breast cancer with Professor William Gallagher at University College Dublin, where her research involved the clinical validation of a novel biomarker signature for breast cancer.

This novel biomarker signature was able to accurately identify patients who have a high risk and those with a low risk of their cancer returning (recurrence), and thus may help clinicians optimise treatment decisions.

Seodhna’s research to date has been published in prestigious journals including the European Journal of Cancer and Cancer Research and has earned her deserved recognition as pioneering scientist in the field of oncology.

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Seodhna is a member of various professional bodies including the American and European Associations for Cancer Research.

She was also recently elected to the Irish Association for Cancer Research Junior Council and has a keen interest in the All-Island Cancer Research Institute initiatives, which aims to develop Ireland as a global leader in cancer research.

Dr. Lynch was appointed as a Postdoctoral Research Associate within the Personalised Medicine Centre, a research department of the School of Medicine, which is based at the Altnagelvin Hospital Campus in Derry.

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She also lectures on the Personalised Medicine and Biomedical Sciences degree programmes at Ulster University.

Seodhna is currently spearheading cancer research and is working on the pre-clinical development of a novel drug candidate for childhood cancer.

The research is funded by the Little Princess Trust and is in collaboration with Dr. Ross Levine at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York.

Seodhna said collaborative working is an important aspect of what she and her colleagues do.

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“Cancer research is all about teamwork, and I am very lucky to be working with Dr. Kyle Matchett and Dr. David Gibson within the Personalised Medicine Centre and with my collaborators in the prestigious Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre. Our funding body, Little Princess Trust, are absolutely amazing and inspirational to work with,” she stated.

Leukaemia, a type of blood cancer, is the most common childhood cancer. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is the most common type with a five-year survival for children of greater than 90 per cent.

Unfortunately, for children who are diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), the survival rate is very poor with only 60 per cent of children diagnosed expected to survive more than five years.

This is in addition to the severe and toxic side effects that children experience from their treatment.

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These include vomiting, hair loss, memory and attention problems, bone pain, tooth decay, heart muscle damage and decreased lung function.

Dr. Lynch is helping to address an urgent clinical need to identify new drugs for treating childhood acute myeloid leukaemia (AML): “My research focuses on finding new drugs that are effective in fighting the leukaemia whilst at the same time reducing severe and toxic side effects for children.

"The research will ultimately evaluate the potential of these new drugs entering into clinical trials where children could then benefit from these novel therapies in the future.

"Indeed, we are currently working on a promising new drug which may have potential as a new treatment option for children with cancer.”

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Dr. Lynch’s research interests primarily focus on identifying novel biomarkers for directing personalised cancer therapy and specifically developing novel therapeutics for children with cancer.

Seodhna features in a new Ulster University advertising campaign aimed at encouraging school leavers to consider following in her footsteps and pursuing a career in STEM: “I loved studying at Ulster University and would really encourage everyone to consider going to this university. The people are really lovely and are there to help you on your journey.

"I would not be where I am today without the help of my colleagues that I met here at Ulster University, they have become friends for life.

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"Ulster University is a special place, its friendly, homely, supportive, enabling, inspiring, full of life and has so much to offer. It just feels like home.”

The Personalised Medicine Centre was established by Professor Tony Bjourson in 2013 and is based at the Altnagelvin Hospital Campus.

Since then, the centre has secured more than £24 million in competitive grant funding, has several patent applications for novel therapeutic and diagnostic advances and has published more than 380 peer-reviewed articles in prestigious journals, with the research group now led by Dr. David Gibson.

The recently established School of Medicine is based on the Magee campus of Ulster University, with a graduate entry MBBS programme that has enrolled a second cohort of students in 2022 and led by Professor Louise Dubras.