Grace Colley - Developing Targeted Cancer Treatments

Grace Colley is working to develop more targeted and effective treatments for breast cancer patients through her doctoral research in DCU’s School of Biotechnology. In this piece, she describes how support from the Orla Benson Memorial Scholarship is helping her advance and share this much-needed research.

“I first developed my interest in research in DCU, where I studied Genetics and Cell Biology and later completed a Masters in Diagnostics and Precision Medicine. Through my Masters, I was introduced to precision or ‘personalised’ medicine, and how disease prevention and treatment options can be tailored for individual patients. Unlike conventional chemotherapy, precision medicine uses targeted therapies which are designed to directly target cancer cells rather than the patient’s normal healthy cells, leading to fewer adverse side effects for patients.

My Masters research project, supervised by Dr Alex Eustace, aimed to identify the effects of genetic alterations or mutations on cancer cells, and to investigate whether these mutations made the cancer more aggressive and harder to treat. My hope was to use this analysis to develop more targeted cancer treatments, and I’m continuing to build on that research now as a PhD student.

“Cancer is so genetically complex, it is difficult to identify drugs to improve patient outcomes using current research methods. We need novel research approaches to achieve this goal; and I wanted to be part of that drive.”


My doctoral research project focuses on breast cancer treatment, and cancer mutations that cause cancer progression. I’m researching a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer, known as triple-negative breast cancer. Therapies which work for other subtypes of breast cancer are ineffective in triple-negative breast cancer. Although novel treatments have been developed for this kind of cancer, some patients still develop resistance to treatment, and their cancer continues to grow and become more aggressive. Our research asks why and how – and we aim to develop a pathway for more targeted and effective treatments.

“We hope our work will become the basis for further investigation and potential future clinical trials. If we can find a way to effectively treat triple-negative breast cancer and improve patient response, this project will have made a real impact.”


This January, I will be carrying out further research in the BioDesign Institute at Arizona State University (ASU), where I’ll have access to state-of-the-art facilities. Researchers there have developed unique protocols that will enable me to analyse the specific effects of the cancer mutations I’m studying, and their effect on the treatments we have identified.

“This is vital research that has never been done before, and I hope to have the opportunity to present my findings at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) conference, which is the most prestigious conference in cancer research.”


The Orla Benson Memorial Scholarship will play a huge part in helping me to travel to the AACR conference in San Diego. This meeting is the focal point of the cancer research community, where scientists, clinicians, survivors, patients and advocates gather to share the latest advances in cancer science and medicine. It will be an opportunity to meet so many high-level scientists, learn more about the most up to date cancer research and share my own results with our research community. I’m very grateful for this opportunity, and I’m excited to further develop and share this much-needed research.”

Supporting Excellence and Opportunity

Grace Colley was awarded the Orla Benson Memorial Scholarship for 2023/24. This scholarship was created by the friends and family of Orla Benson, a graduate of the class of 1995 who sadly passed away in the summer months before her graduation. The memorial scholarship offered by the Benson family is presented each year to a student demonstrating outstanding potential in the field of Biotechnology.

If you’re interested in supporting a PhD scholarship that will enable bright minds to pursue research with real societal impact, contact our team at .


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