carolineTHE CAROLINE FOUNDATION was established in memory of Caroline Dwyer-Hickey who passed away on 25 March 2013 aged 35 after a nine year battle with cancer. Caroline was a patient of Professor John Crown from the time of her being diagnosed with breast cancer in June 2004. Having benefited from clinical trials in both Ireland and the US Caroline was a public advocate for cancer research, firmly believing that research will one day find a cure – she was a pioneer of cancer research in that she was the first in Ireland to participate on some trials through the CCRT. The Caroline Foundation is built on, and is testimony to that advocacy, that hope and faith in the work of The CCRT.


The mission and purpose of The Caroline Foundation is to raise money to fully fund an additional scientific researcher on the Cancer Clinical Research Trust (CCRT) team.


The hope and vision that inspires our endeavour is that through supporting cancer research, those patients who today are participants on the CCRT research programme may benefit from the on-going development of better treatments and at another level that the global cancer research project, of which CCRT is an integral player, will one day not only find a cure but will find a way of preventing cancer.


The committee of The Caroline Foundation has set itself a clear target to raise 1million euro for The Caroline Foundation Cancer Research Fellowship.


It is proposed to raise one million euro through a variety of activities:

  1. Organising a number of events during the year such as Awareness Ribbon Day for Schools to mark World Cancer Day on 04 February; Community based events such as Guinness World Record attempts; Fundraising Lunch on first Friday of October and others as they arise.
  2. Promoting, encouraging and assisting friends and supporters of the Foundation to undertake their own fundraising activities such as Marathons; Quizzes; Fashion Shows etc.
  3. Facilitating direct donations to the Foundation through the website
  4. Promoting awareness of the need for a vibrant, well-resourced, well-networked cancer research programme in Ireland so that Irish cancer patients can trust that the treatment here is as good as anywhere else in the world, and those cancer patients in for whom the mainstream cancer treatment programme is not enough have access to clinical trials linked to the best worldwide. We can only get that by having an active research programme here that is working in collegial global networks. We endeavour to do our part in this awareness building through publicity opportunities generated by the key fundraising events.


It is envisaged that The Caroline Foundation will have a limited life-span. The timeframe will be dependent on the time it takes to achieve its financial goal of one million euro.


The Caroline Foundation is not an independent charity. It is a constituent of Cancer Clinical Research Trust (www.ccrt.ie ) led by Prof. John Crown and is therefore answerable to the board of CCRT. CCRT is a registered charity that complies with all governance codes and best practices recommended for the charity sector in Ireland. Charity Number: CHY 12210


Professor John Crown; Dr. Janice Walshe (Consultant Oncologist); Dr. Emer Hanrahan (Consultant Oncologist); Dr. David Fennelly (Consultant Oncologist); Mr Feargal Quinn (former Independent Senator & Businessman); and Professor Ray Kinsella (UCD, Professor of Economics).

The Caroline Foundation is in full compliance with the best practice standards in our sector including the guidelines of good governance as presented by CCRT and The Governance Code of Practice for Good Governance of Community, Voluntary and Charitable Organisations in Ireland. In doing so The Caroline Foundation operates according to the recommended five key principles by:

  1. Having shared vision, purpose and values and ensuring they remain relevant;
  2. Complying with all relevant legal and regulatory requirements and operating by appropriate internal financial controls;
  3. Being transparent and accountable through effective communication with all those who support our efforts;
  4. Ensuring our working practices as a steering committee are efficient and effective;
  5. Operating with integrity in managing and promoting the Foundation.


The Caroline Foundation is led by a small committee of people who are imbued with a volunteer ethos. Each member of the committee volunteers their time, energy and expertise to raise funds for cancer research. The Caroline Foundation has no paid employee. The committee is (in alphabetical order):

Karen Culhane (representing CCRT); Karen Hodgins; Valerie Kelly; Rita Lehane; Kieran Leonard; Bernie O’Broin and Helen O’Sullivan-Dwyer (Chair).

 karen-hodgins   rita-lehane Kieran Leonard Bernie-O’Broin helen-osullivan-dwyer


fred-mcmahonDr. Frederick McMahon is a graduate of Maynooth University, completing his BSc (Biological and Biomedical Sciences) in 2011, and more recently, with his PhD entitled “An Analysis of the Role of Bacillus oleronius Proteins in the Pathogenesis of Ocular Rosacea” in 2016. During his PhD, he won 1st prize for PhD Student Oral Presentation at the Society for General Microbiology (SGM) Irish Division Meeting at Ulster University at Coleraine, and he was a finalist at the Sir Howard Dalton Young Microbiologist of the Year Award in 2014, representing the Irish Division of the SGM in London. His research interests include clinical translation science and the evaluation of potential drug therapies on cell biology. In October 2016, he joined the ChemoGel team, investigating the potential of ChemoGel as a potential cancer ablative therapy against the progression of solid tumors, at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) as a Post-Doctoral Researcher.

Recently, in callobaration with the Clinical Cancer Research Trust (CCRT) and The Caroline Foundation, Dr Frederick McMahon was awarded an Irish Research Council (IRC) Enterprise Partnership Scheme (EPS) Fellowship entitled “Genomic alterations to predict therapeutic response in malignant melanoma”. This research project will be conducted in a joint venture between Dublin City University and St Vincent’s Hospital under the supervision of Dr Naomi Walsh and Prof. John Crown, with the aim of determining the frequency of genomic alterations of patients with malignant melanoma following treatment using next-generation sequencing. Together, this study will provide insight into the association between genetic alterations, mutational load, therapeutic response and clinical outcome, thereby, creating an “index” which may predict a therapeutic response in malignant melanoma that will facilitate patient selection to ensure optimal clinical benefit. The IRC EPS Fellowship will commence in January 2017 for duration of 2 years.

Research Fellow 2016 – Dr Alyson Murray

alyson murray 1Dr. Alyson Murray obtained her PhD in Infection Biology from University College Dublin in 2013. She then began her career in cancer biology when she commenced her postdoctoral research in the lab of Professor Joe Duffy in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin.

The research in Professor Joe Duffy’s lab is focussed on targeted therapies in breast cancer. In particular, Alyson is investigating the possible use of a synthetic form of vitamin D* for the treatment of breast cancer. There is increasing evidence that vitamin D may have a protective role in breast cancer, which Alyson is hoping to confirm as part of her research.

Collaborators include Professor John Crown, Professor Willliam Gallagher (UCD) and Dr Norma O’Donovan (DCU). Alyson has published in international peer reviewed journals along with collaborators from Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and The Institute of Cancer Research London. Alyson is also involved in the Irish Cancer Society Collaborative cancer research centre, BreastPredict (www.breastpredict.com).

Targeting the Vitamin D receptor as a potential treatment for breast cancer

The active form of vitamin D* is involved in a number of the body’s processes, most notably in the absorption of calcium. However, recent evidence implicates a deficiency in vitamin D in the formation and progression of cancer. Therefore we propose that vitamin D could have the potential to be used as a therapeutic agent in the treatment of cancer. The active form of vitamin D binds to the Vitamin D receptor (VDR) that is present on almost all cells of the body, including in the breast. When activated, this receptor then drives a number of reactions that can lead to a decrease in cancer cell growth, an increase in cancer cell death and a decrease in invasion and metastasis.

The research performed in our lab is looking at the use of vitamin D as a treatment for breast cancer. We have screened a large panel of breast cancer cells, which includes all of the different breast cancer subgroups, for the response to vitamin D exposure. We saw a response to treatment in all subgroups and could calculate the concentration of VD that would be required to reduce the growth by 50%. This concentration indicated the most responsive cells. The Estrogen receptor positive cells responded best to treatment, followed by the HER2 group and finally the triple negative cells.

In order to utilize vitamin D in a patient, you would need to ensure the concentrations prescribed are low enough to avoid hypercalcaemia but still maintain the anti-cancer properties. To try overcome this we have been researching the effects of a synthetic form of vitamin D. This has been shown to require much lower doses to reduce the growth of cancerous cells. Part of our research is involved in thoroughly comparing the actions of both the natural and the synthetic forms of vitamin D, and determining the method of action.

In a clinical environment vitamin D would likely be given in conjunction with another treatment. So, to test the benefits of this we are looking at the effect of vitamin D on the growth of breast cancer cells when treated alongside a number of chemotherapy and hormonal agents. One notable discovery so far, is that we can see a response to the estrogen receptor targeting agent Tamoxifen in the triple negative cells. We are currently exploring many avenues to discover both how this is happening and how it may be exploited in a clinical environment.

“We need to continue to raise funds to ensure that  Dr Murray & Dr McMahon’s research be enabled to continue beyond December 2016 – to be given reasonable time to reap rewards.”

Research Fellow 2014-16

Dr Norma O’Donovan obtained her PhD from University College Cork in 1998, and conducted her postdoctoral training in University Hospital Bern, Switzerland. She subsequently returned to Ireland as a postdoctoral scientist in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, and also spent some time working with the Health Research Board. Since 2004, she has been employed as a Senior Scientist at the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology (www.nicb.ie) in Dublin City University.

Her research focusses on targeted therapies for cancer, in particular breast cancer and melanoma. She is also involved in the Science Foundation Ireland funded Strategic Research Cluster, Molecular Therapeutics for Cancer Ireland (www.mtci.ie) and Breast-Predict, an Irish Cancer Society Collaborative Cancer Research Centre. Dr O’Donovan has published 44 research articles in international peer reviewed journals and is an active member of the All-Ireland Cooperative Oncology Research Group (www.icorg.ie), participating in several breast cancer clinical trials.

There are currently 9 breast cancer clinical trials open in Ireland (run by ICORG, www.icorg.ie) – St Vincent’s are participating in all of these trials

  • In addition to supporting the clinical trials team at St Vincent’s, CCRT also supports lab research in St Vincent’s, UCD, RCSI and DCU.
  • The Caroline Foundation supports a senior scientist, Norma O’Donovan, at Dublin City University. Dr O’Donovan is supervising a team of 9 cancer researchers at the National Institute for Cellular Biotechnology, DCU (4 of the 9 are funded partly/fully by CCRT, ccrt.ie) – the team includes postgraduate students, postdoctoral scientists and a research assistant.

The focus of the research is on developing new targeted therapies for cancer and identifying biomarkers to help determine which drugs will benefit individual patients. For example, by studying how tumour cells become resistant to current therapies they can identify new targets and test new treatments that may overcome drug resistance. The group are currently testing 6 new drugs in breast cancer cells in the lab and performing biomarker tests on patient samples from 2 breast cancer clinical trials. The drugs which produce the most promising results in the lab will be progressed into clinical trials in breast cancer patients.

We are currently testing seven different drugs which may provide new therapy options for patients with specific types of breast cancer and melanoma. We have recently tested three targeted therapies for HER2 positive breast cancer and showed that the three drugs together produced a greater effect on HER2 positive breast cancer cells in the lab, than each of the drugs alone or a combination of two of the drugs.

The results of this research will be presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Medical Oncology in September 2015.

Video interview from CCRT with an update about how cancer research is progressing…

Text-A-Donation: Text RESEARCH to 50300 to donate € 4

Every text donation of €4 received is serviced by LikeCharity.