A SCIENTIST from Kinawely now based in Amsterdam has led a breakthrough discovery in childhood cancer research.

Dr. Caitrín Crudden is a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Amsterdam University Medical Centre, specialising in molecular and cell biology

Her work focuses on childhood sarcomas, which sees cancer cells begin growing in the soft tissue in a child's body.

Such soft tissues connect, support and surround the body parts and organs, and include muscles, tendons, connective tissues, fat, blood vessels and nerves.

Alongside her team, Dr. Crudden has discovered that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of specialised receptors, which are present on the surface of cells.

Explaining her findings, Dr. Crudden said: "I found that we had a fundamental misunderstanding about how one particular receptor functioned, one that childhood sarcoma cancer cells replied on for their growth and survival.

"By going back to the drawing board, and re-learning the molecular mechanism, I was able to see drug-targeting from a new perspective. I discovered that we can use a widely prescribed anti-depressant drug, Paroxetine, to control this receptor, which slows the growth of childhood sarcoma tumours in mouse models."

This finding by Dr. Crudden and her team took six years to complete. She added: "My work comprised the 'first steps’ of the process – experimenting in cells in the lab, developing a novel therapeutic approach, and then, once we found something that we think worked, testing that in an animal model.

"We are now working on the next steps, which is moving this strategy into clinical trials.

"I work to understand how cells communicate and how this goes wrong in cancer. Once we understand this more clearly, we can develop new, more effective, anti-cancer therapies."

Dr. Crudden became interested in this form of research as, currently, patients who have this form of cancer are "treated with really intensive combinations of surgery, radio- and chemo-therapy, that carry substantial short- and long-term toxicities."

A former pupil of St. Naile's, Kinawley and Mount Lourdes Grammar School, Dr. Crudden has been working in cancer research for close to a decade.

The job of a scientist is no easy task: "The job can be stressful and difficult on multiple levels. Firstly, the problem is mind-numbingly-complex, meaning failure and frustration are the norm.

"Secondly, medical research is often under-funded, meaning we end up spending a lot of our valuable time searching for money, making it competitive, very unstable as a career, and that all takes resources away from the important work at hand and can have a huge impact on personal well-being.

"You need to be resilient, for sure," Dr. Crudden told this newspaper.

However, Dr, Crudden wished to reach out to young people to encourage them to consider science as a career. She said: "Science as a career is attainable and fun!

"When I grew up, I wasn’t exposed to scientists in the media, popular culture or my local network.

"Despite always enjoying the subject at school, I was veering towards medicine as an achievable career. Science as a career didn’t even occur to me until much later down the line.

"I hope to share with young people that they don’t have to brush the dirt off their knees, stop exploring or stop asking probing questions about the world. We need their insights, their innovation and their passion."