The EDSA Lecture Competition is a fantastic opportunity for undergraduate students and newly qualified dentists to present their work in the research field to an international audience. In this interview, EDSA caught up with Lecture Competition winner Brian Maloney to discuss his experience in conducting research as a dental student. Brian is a third year student studying at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.
EDSA: Hello, Brian! Congratulations on winning first place at the 2021 Summer edition of EDSA Lecture Competition, with the presentation titled " The Potential of Nicotinamide N-Methyltransferase (NNMT) As An Anti-Cancer Target In Cultured Human Oral Squamous Cancer Cells (OSCC)”. What does this accomplishment mean to you?
Brian: To be awarded first prize at the 2021 Summer edition of EDSA Lecture Competition for my research project was an honor. When I heard about the competition from a colleague, I did not expect at the time that I would be successful. This accomplishment has now led to my presenting of the research at subsequent conferences where I have also been successful. This experience was a stepping stone that has facilitated further opportunities with my research and I am very thankful to the EDSA for this.
EDSA: Was it hard to get into the field of research and who played a key role during the process of your study?
EDSA: Getting started is always the hardest part. I feel students don’t get the opportunity to get involved with research in their college/university unless they explicitly seek it out. Even if a student is motivated enough to actively enquire about getting involved in research with a lecturer or colleague, the process requires determination. It is easy to give up in the pursuit of research opportunities but the reward when such occasions arrive are great.
The project would never have come to fruition without the help of several people. This included my supervisors in the dental hospital, the Dean of the hospital, as well as several members of the biochemistry department in the biomedical institute.
EDSA: How did you come up with the idea for this research? What motivated you to get involved with this kind of research?
Brian: The research idea was developed in association with the principal investigator of this project. One of his students was investigating the role of the enzyme in breast cancer. As I wanted to research oral cancer, it was decided that the project would concurrently investigate the role of the enzyme in oral cancer and use drug-like molecules to investigate their effects on viability and metabolism of OSCC.
My motivation came from my interest to get involved with dental research as an undergraduate student. Oral cancer was an area that interested me due to how relevant it is in the clinical setting.
EDSA: Which were the steps you had to take in order to get your idea of research into practice?
Brian: Once the idea was developed for the research project, funding was the next stage. This is often the most difficult part of a maneuver especially as a student with insufficient knowledge as to where funding can be obtained. I was lucky enough to be granted the funding for my research by my dental school. However, in Ireland at least, there are other grants and scholarships available to apply research ideas to, and if a student can receive guidance from a more knowledgeable supervisor, this would certainly improve the likelihood of securing funding. Following on from this, a provisional plan was put in place about when the project would start and what needed to be achieved each week. The duration was 8 weeks and happened over the summer of 2021.
EDSA: Which part of the research process did you enjoy the most?
Brian: My favorite part of my research experience was the opportunity to work with a group of likeminded, motivated people. Coming from dentistry, I was given the chance to experience the world of biochemistry which is very different to the dental world.
There was also a great sense of accomplishment as the results were obtained and showed promising results. Sometimes, research that expects to show some correlation/ effect may end up showing little or no effect, which can be quite disappointing.
Finally, I enjoyed the opportunities I received to present my work. I had limited experience taking part in oral presentations before the project. I had the chance to give updates on the project and answer questions about the findings. This experience will benefit me in the future, by making me more confident in public speaking.
EDSA: What were the challenges you encountered during your study?
Brian: I had no previous experience or teaching in the field of biochemistry. In our 2nd year of study, we undertake a biochemistry course which teaches the basic principles of the science. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this course was cut short. Thus, when I began the research in the summer of 2021, I was starting from the basics. I had to learn the fundamental principles of cell culture, western blotting, ATP assays, which was challenging at first. However, I received amazing guidance from several individuals throughout. If not for this support I would not have been able to complete the project.
I learned that working with cells can be demanding at times. Results do not always go to plan and sometimes errors can set you back a few weeks. While this is frustrating, it is a part of the process which I slowly learned to accept. Luckily, I managed to complete the research without any major setbacks.
Q: What message or advice do you have for the participants of the next edition of EDSA Lecture Competition?
Brian: I would advise everyone to get involved with the EDSA Lecture Competition. It was a fantastic opportunity for me and has resulted in success at other research conferences. Unfortunately, I could not attend in person this year, but I would have loved to be there in person.