Edel O’Toole: Cancer researcher

Dr. Vera Martins and Professory Edel O’Toole
Dr. Vera Martins and Professory Edel O’Toole

I come from County Mayo and went to medical school at University College Galway, followed by further training in medicine and dermatology in Dublin and the United States. I moved to London in 1998 to finish my dermatology training. I obtained an independent position as a Senior Lecturer in 2001 and was promoted to Professor of Molecular Dermatology at Barts and the London in 2008. I work in the Blizard Institute within one of the largest group of skin researchers in Europe with excellent core facilities. The main focus of my research is skin cancer in epidermolysis bullosa and I have received funding from DEBRA Ireland which has moved this forward substantially.

My first funded research project was a PhD studentship, which funded a student called Vera Martins. Vera examined how loss of collagen VII (the protein that is reduced or absent in recessive dystrophic epidermolysis bullosa) affects how skin cancer cells invade. She showed that transient loss of collagen VII increased cancer invasion and production of chemokines by cancer cells (these are small molecules that promote spread of cancer). As a post-doctoral researcher in my group, also funded by DEBRA Ireland, Vera has moved on to making cell lines with permanent loss of collagen VII and other matrix proteins, so she can examine how this affects growth of tumours in vivo. As a result of the funding from DEBRA Ireland and the data Vera produced, I received further funding from the British Skin Foundation, the BBSRC and DEBRA International to expand various aspects of Vera’s work.

DEBRA Ireland has also funded another project in my group looking at the role of a molecule called Axl in cancer cell survival and resistance to treatment. With Cancer Research Technology, we are developing small molecule inhibitors of Axl, which we hope to use in experiments in the laboratory, in the near future.

In summary, the support of DEBRA Ireland for research in my group has been instrumental in developing lots of different projects in my lab all focused on skin cancer and epidermolysis bullosa (both RDEB and JEB). Through DEBRA Ireland, Vera and I met Robert O’Neill, RIP, who inspired both of us even further to want to find a cure for aggressive skin cancer in EB. We are very grateful to DEBRA Ireland fundraisers, supporters and donors.