A Fermanagh-born cancer researcher has been awarded £280,000 from Prostate Cancer UK to develop the first-ever personalised radiotherapy treatment for advanced prostate cancer based on men’s genes.

Dr. Victoria Dunne (30), from Kinawley, is a researcher at Queen’s University Belfast. Her research focuses on prostate cancer which is the most common cancer in men, affecting one in eight men in their lifetime.

Speaking to The Impartial Reporter, Dr. Dunne discussed her early life in Fermanagh, her journey into research and what she hopes to achieve with the money awarded to her by Prostate Cancer UK.

A daughter of Robert and Susan Dunne, Dr. Dunne received her education at Florencecourt Primary School, Devenish College and Enniskillen Collegiate Grammar School.

From there she progressed to the University of Ulster at Coleraine to study Biology before completing a PhD at Queen’s University Belfast that was heavily focused on lung cancer.

Following that, she moved into a post-doctorate position focusing on mechanisms surrounding cancer resistance to treatments.

Dr. Dunne then completed a second postdoc through funding from a private donor, the LFT Charitable Trust. She said: “That funding gave me a chance to source my own funding, which is through the Prostate Cancer UK grant, so they gave me the extra funding to continue my research.

“It started in September, 2019, and we got a lot of research in that time frame before Covid-19 hit.

“The LFT grant provided me with the preliminary data to write the Prostate Cancer UK grant, which was a massive document which took months and months to write. We then set up the collaboration with Oslo University Hospital.”

As part of the project, Dr. Dunne will travel to Oslo University Hospital in Norway, where she will work with an international team of researchers who are leading the way in the development of novel radiotherapy treatments.

“They have a new treatment which is in clinical trials at the minute which has the potential to be more beneficial for men with late-stage prostate cancer, and through our collaboration and this grant, we are doing some work to personalise the treatment by looking at a man’s genes as opposed to just giving it to every single man, [with the hope to] then bring a clinical trial back here to Northern Ireland.”

Although a type of radiotherapy called radium-233 can be an effective treatment for cancer that has spread to the bones, some men benefit more than others, and this seems to be linked to their genes.

In her project, Dr. Dunne will study genes involved in repairing damage to DNA to understand how they influence men’s response to radium-223. She will explore whether combining radium-223 with drugs that stop cancer cells from being able to repair their DNA can improve its effectiveness.

Dr. Victoria Dunne in the lab at Queens University Belfast

Dr. Victoria Dunne in the lab at Queen's University Belfast

If successful, this new treatment combination could be targeted at men who carry specific genetic changes, helping them live a longer, better-quality life.

Advising anyone with an interest in cancer research or science as a career, Dr. Dunne said: “It requires a large amount of your time – you have to be committed and disciplined. There are a lot of setbacks in science, and it can be one step forward, and ten steps back.

“It is about perseverance until you get a glimmer of hope, and [there is a reward] knowing that the glimmer of hope will help someone else.

“If it something you really want to do, go for it, but bear all of that in mind.”

Simon Grieveson, Major Research Investments Lead at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to treatment doesn’t always deliver the best results for men, which is why research like this is so important.

“We’re delighted to be supporting Dr. Dunne as she unpicks the genetics behind prostate cancer and uses this information to increase the effectiveness of treatments by tailoring them to an individual’s genetic make-up.

“This could revolutionise the way we deliver radiotherapy, and give thousands of men valuable extra time with their loved ones.”