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A real passion for research

Dr Anne-Marie Baird.


BY SEÁN P. FEENY

A DONEGAL scientist with a real passion and drive for her work has been awarded a prestigious fellowship by a global organisation dedicated to the study of lung cancer.

Dr Anne-Marie Baird has been awarded a fellowship from the US-based International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC).

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After competing with a global pool of applicants Anne-Marie now joins more than 3,500 lung cancer specialists in 80 countries, part of the association, to continue her research to fight arguably the biggest cancer related ‘killer’ in Ireland.

In 2011 lung cancer was the cause of 1,661 deaths in Ireland (647 female, 1014 male) which accounts for 20 per cent of total cancer deaths, while breast cancer accounts for 7.5 per cent and prostate cancer 6.3 per cent.

Having received the fellowship, Anne-Marie hopes that she can also help raise awareness of the work her team does at St James’ Hospital.

Anne-Marie Baird grew up in the picturesque village of Devlin near Glenveagh. When she was 15 years old and doing her mocks at PCC Falcarragh her late grandfather Karl Gamble was diagnosed with bowel cancer and sadly passed away.

“We were visiting him at Letterkenny General Hospital with the family and it was very sad. That whole experience really set me on my journey, when you see someone you love suffering, you just wish you could do something to help them,” she said.

Rather than going into medicine, the daughter of Rose and Bernie Baird decided that research appealed to her more and she attended the Dublin Institute of Technology and completed a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology.

But Anne-Marie was not finished with her studies, yet. She worked and saved some money so she could go back and study for her PhD in Lung Cancer Research.

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She joined the Thoracic Oncology Research Group at St James’ Hospital headed by Professor Ken O’Byrne, Consultant Medical Oncologist, and also affiliated with Trinity College Dublin.

During this time Anne-Marie’s aunt was sadly diagnosed with lung cancer while she was researching inflammation and lung carcinogenesis.

“This was the second death from lung cancer our family experienced. The lung cancer survival rates are quite poor and it was hard for me when my aunt was first diagnosed as I had to nearly detach myself from my work when I was going home,” she said.

Having now been awarded the IASLC fellowship, Anne-Marie said the funding will allow her to do a lot more work in the laboratory at St James’ Hospital.

“We are a small team of researchers and any funding is most welcome and much-needed. The funding I will receive through the fellowship enables me to do research for two more years.”

If someone is diagnosed with lung cancer, there are normally three means of treatment – chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery.

The most common option is chemotherapy and the body does respond but after some time it develops resistance to the treatment.

Anne-Marie wants 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.

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