Gemma Moore - Access Graduate & Yale Researcher

Dr Gemma Moore is an Associate Research Scientist in Yale Medical School, and a proud alumna of the DCU Access Programme. Here, she shares her journey from doctoral studies in DCU to researching cancer in Yale.  
Tell us about your connection to DCU and the DCU Access Programme.

My connection to DCU was there even before I started university. My secondary school, St Dominic’s College in Cabra, was part of the DCU Access Outreach Programme, and that gave us the opportunity to take part in many initiatives with the university, like coding bootcamps and campus visits.

Genetics and Cell Biology in DCU was my number one choice on the CAO, and I was lucky enough to be accepted and to qualify for the DCU Access Programme. I had the SUSI (Student Universal Support Ireland) grant for college, but having the extra financial support from the DCU Access Scholarship made a real difference to me. I came from a situation where no one had gone to college before, no one could tell me what it was like or how to do it, but through Access I got to meet a community of other people in the same situation, and that support meant a lot.

“I was the first in my family to graduate from university. I always felt like college was a natural progression for me, but I knew that it hadn’t been a possibility for my parents. That was the difference between our generations. Ireland has changed a lot, but it’s still very difficult if you come from a disadvantaged area or background. The DCU Access Programme helps the people who need a bit of extra help, and creates the sense of community you need to feel like you do belong here, you can go to college, you can get a PhD. It’s hugely important.”


I loved my time in DCU, and I know I picked the right college. I think it made everything happen. I have so many great memories of university, especially the events at Halloween. I competed with the DCU Fencing Society too – and I never would have had the opportunity to learn fencing outside of university!

What first inspired you to pursue a PhD?

It was my INTRA placement that first inspired me to pursue a career in research. It was right after the 2008 recession, so a lot of companies weren’t taking on students. Instead, the school placed students in research labs around DCU, so we were still getting lab experience, even if it wasn’t in industry. I was placed on a research project in the DCU National Institute for Cellular Biology (NICB), and that was what decided it for me.

I was able to apply for a structured PhD through the BioAT programme, and that provided funding for my doctoral studies. My doctoral experience was quite unique, as structured PhDs are less common in Europe, but it meant I got to try different labs in DCU and RCSI before I started my research in DCU NICB.

Although my PhD was fully funded, I was only able to afford it because I could live at home. So many other people don’t have that option, and that can be a real barrier to anyone who doesn’t have help or support.

Your PhD focused on understanding pancreatic cancer cells. How has that work made an impact?

The main focus of my research was part of a collaboration between DCU, St Vincent’s Hospital, Queens University Belfast and Buffalo University. At the time, St Vincent’s Hospital was one of only two hospitals in the country that performed surgery on pancreatic cancer. This gave us a unique opportunity to analyse pancreatic cancer cells from patient tumours. We would grow two different types of cells from the pancreas, one a cancer cell and the other a non-cancerous cell and examine the influence the two cells had on each other. This project gave us a better understanding of pancreatic cancer tumours, which are very different to other cancers, and it has given us better tools to study it.

You went straight from a PhD at DCU to postdoctoral research in Yale – how did that come about?

I knew I wanted to go to America, so I had applied for a few jobs there. When I heard back from Yale, I was delighted. I finished in DCU in May, squeezed in five weeks of travel with my friend, and that same summer I moved to Connecticut. New Haven is a small city, and Yale is a big part of it, so that made it easier to settle in. Everyone in my lab was very helpful, and I liked it straight away.

“To come from a family with no experience of university and become a scientific researcher in Yale feels miraculous, and DCU was a big part of that.”


I’ve been here for nearly seven years now. When I started as a postdoctoral researcher, I was switching fields from cell biology to DNA repair. I’m now one of the more senior people in our lab in the Therapeutic Radiology department, and my research mainly focuses on breast and ovarian cancer (BRCA1/2) mutations and drug resistance.

What drives your current research into breast and ovarian cancer treatment?

DNA repair is the root cause of cancer. Mutations happen in our DNA everyday – but cancer occurs when a mistake happens, and the body doesn’t fix it. As those mutations build up, that can eventually lead to cancer. The work I’m doing now focuses on patients with a BRCA2 mutation.

People with a BRCA2 mutation have a 70% higher chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer. It can affect you much younger, and it runs through families. My research investigates how we can treat patients who have BRCA2 mutations and have developed drug resistance, so there’s no treatment currently available. Our lab was the first to successfully purify the BRCA2 protein, so we’re continuing to lead in this area, and the type of mutations I’m looking at make this research unique.

In addition to my research, I’m also a Forensic Genetic Genealogist. In recent years, using DNA profiles to build out family trees has become a significant method of closing criminal cases and identifying human remains. That’s something I love about science: we’re still finding new ways to use our knowledge. We’ve known about DNA for 30 years, and now we’re using it in a completely different way to get families the information they need.

How do you stay connected to DCU today?

DCU feels like my community. I still feel like I belong here. When you’re at alumni events, like the one in New York recently, straight away there are things you have in common – like the chicken goujons! That’s not a joke to anyone else on the planet, but if you’re from DCU, that’s a joke. I’m very grateful for my time in DCU, and it’s great to see the university thriving too. You can feel that it’s a young university, open to possibilities.

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