Áine McCarthy

Áine McCarthy

PhD Researcher

Watch Áine on Channel 5 News for World Cancer Day 2016

Before joining the Barts Cancer Institute, I completed my BSc in Genetics at University College Cork, in Ireland.

For my PhD I looked at the process of autophagy in follicular lymphoma and its transformation to DLBCL. I also studied the effects of autophagy inhibition and autophagy defects in FL and see if they have a role in progression/transformation of the disease. I looked at specific proteins within the pathway such as p62 to assess whether these could be used as potential markers of transformation.

In my new role as a science communications officer at Cancer Research UK I act as a translator to make complex science simple. There are six people in my team and we work to inform the public about new discoveries and breakthroughs in cancer research – from fundamental cell biology discoveries right through to the development and release of a new drug. We do this through various publications including our science blog and annual review. We also work closely with the press team and act as spokespeople, providing interviews and comments on any cancer related stories that make the headlines.

The role requires me to understand and know a lot about a whole lot of different cancers and cancer topics. The thing I like most about the job – besides the opportunity to work with some amazing people - is the fact that even though I’m not in the lab anymore I’m still expected to know what is going on in the world of cancer research. This means I’m still reading academic papers, speaking to researchers and keeping abreast of the field. No two days are the same and I’m constantly learning new skills and increasing my science knowledge – it’s brilliant.  

Life at the Institute

I decided to study in England as opposed to Ireland as I want to learn from as wide a range of colleagues and environments as I can. I decided on QMUL/BCI as it has a long history of producing high quality work by excellent researchers. Within it the centre for Haemato-Oncology has state of the art facilities and researchers that are at the top of their game. The people I worked with were determined, focused, friendly and encouraging - willing to share what they know with others and always on hand to offer advice and support, especially to the new kids!


In December 2010 I was given the opportunity to attend the American Society of Haematology (ASH) Conference in Florida. It was my first time attending such a conference and I found it both enjoyable and beneficial. It gave me the opportunity to listen to interesting talks that were directly and indirectly relevant to my work. As a first year student it showed me what level and quality of work is required to participate in a conference. It was a highly motivational few days and I returned determined to be involved in next year’s conference – in San Diego!

Low Points

There have been a few. Like the time I completely forgot to block my membranes when doing a western blot. The result was membranes with a lot of background noise and totally un-useable. I felt so useless at the time but it’s a mistake I have yet to make again! Then there was the time I stained slides and used the wrong secondary antibody. This really got to me until my supervisor re-assured me that these things do happen and the important thing is to learn from it, and believe me I have!

I wish I'd known...

I wish I had known that people mean it when they say that the first year is a steep learning curve. It takes time to adjust, to find your feet and to get your head around it all. And that they also mean it when they say it does get easier and that results will come!

Future Plans

I had tunnel vision regarding completion of my PhD, but did make plans. I loved the idea of passing on information to others and seeing what they take out of it. This led to me developing an interest in science communications and ultimately the job I am in now.

I hope to carry on working in this field and continue both learning about the field of cancer research and passing this information on to the public

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