I completed my undergraduate training at my hometown university in Ireland, University College Cork, and then went on to do a research masters in Molecular Biology at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Trinity College Dublin. During my PhD I changed focus to study cell biology and imaging. My thesis project described signalling from Rho GTPases to the actin cytoskeleton in macrophage migration and chemotaxis.
I joined the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Cell Biology (LMCB), University College London in 2003 as a MRC postdoctoral fellow. Initially, my studies focused on the regulation of E-cadherin dynamics in epithelial cells, and later switched to understanding the interaction between transformed and normal epithelial cells. From 2011, I worked as an independent investigator scientist at the MRC LMCB, UCL. In September 2013, I joined the European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute at Cardiff University as a Research Fellow.
Epithelial cells communicate and integrate multiple networks of signals through cell-cell interactions, which instruct cells on position, function and fate. Tight control of these processes is required to maintain homeostasis of a tissue. In the early stages of many human cancers, single cells sporadically acquire genetic mutations and become transformed.
My research focuses on understanding how transformed cells expand to form precursor lesions within an environment of tightly regulated growth control and homeostasis, events that are poorly understood. I am particularly interested in the initial stages of human epithelial cancers where Ras mutations are one of the earliest events, such as pancreatic cancer.
Using a combination of in vitro epithelial cell culture systems and in vivo mouse models, my research will explore the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying how Ras-transformed and normal epithelial cells interact and communicate. I will also determine whether these cell-cell interactions promote or prevent expansion of the transformed cells. This may generate new and innovative insights into the early stages of epithelial cancers and advance the development of early detection, diagnostic and preventative strategies.