When Anne-Marie Baird was 15 years old, her grandfather died of cancer. The teenager from County Donegal in Northwest Ireland decided then that she wanted to go into cancer research. She studied biochemistry and molecular biology at the Dublin Institute of Technology and went on to get her Ph.D. in Lung Cancer Research from Trinity College Dublin. It was during her Ph.D studies into inflammation and lung carcinogenesis that her aunt died of lung cancer. This was the second death from lung cancer that her family experienced.
“It made it much more personal,” Baird says. “I had quite a sense of purpose going to the lab each day.”
Baird, from Devlin near Glenveigh, says personal tragedy is not her only motivation. She loves research, but understands that the work she is doing can also have a human impact. Her current post-doctoral work is studying a family of tyrosine kinase receptors in mesothelioma. With Baird’s background in inflammation and lung cancer, she was keen to return to her roots. It was for the proposal “Targeting NF-κB to re-sensitize cisplatin resistant NSCLC cells” she was awarded a 2012 International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC) Fellowship Award.
Dr. Baird, and three other candidates representing North America, Asia and Europe, were awarded research funding for two years after competing with a global pool of applicants. Applications were evaluated by an international scientific review panel for their merit, innovation and potential impact on the management of lung cancer. The goal for IASLC is to reward scientific excellence and to encourage innovative research in lung cancer prevention and translational medicine worldwide.
“I’m absolutely excited and delighted to get such an award,” she says.
Baird’s project arises from the need to clarify the mechanisms of platinum based resistance in lung cancer. Platinum based chemotherapy forms the mainstay of lung cancer treatment; however patients that initially respond to treatment eventually develop resistance.
She will study the role of nuclear factor kappa B (NF-ҡB) in cisplatin based chemotherapy resistance using a unique NF-ҡB inhibitor called DHMEQ in a panel of cisplatin sensitive and resistant cell lines. DHMEQ was designed and synthesized by researchers at Keio University, Japan and it has been previously shown to have both anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor activity. It is hoped by clarifying mechanisms of resistance that it may be possible to restore a satisfactory response to platinum therapy.
The 2-year $80,000 grant will allow her to determine molecular profiles associated with cisplatin resistance in relation to NF-ҡB and evaluate the synergistic effects of DHMEQ and cisplatin both in vitro and in vivo.
“The impact of this research could greatly increase positive treatment outcomes for patients by increasing survival times and may provide an effective interventional strategy to aid lung cancer control and ultimately benefit lung cancer patients,” she says.
Dr. Kathy Gately, clinical scientist and lecturer at Trinity College Dublin and fellowship mentor, has worked with Baird for seven years.
“I have witnessed Dr. Baird’s motivation, enthusiasm and steadfast dedication to her research. Her hard work and determination has allowed her to achieve her goals and become a confident and successful researcher,” Gately says. “I am confident she will achieve all the goals set out in the project proposal and more.”
Baird says she’s looking forward to the research and raising awareness about lung cancer.
“In Ireland, people are shocked when you tell them that lung cancer kills more people than any other cancer type, including breast and prostate, so I also hope to create better awareness.”
Given her enthusiasm, she surely will.
To learn more about the IASLC, the Fellowship Program and its funding sources, and to follow Dr. Baird’s progress, please visit www.iaslc.org/about-iaslc/fellowship-guidelines/.