IRSS 2015


Student name: Ahmed Dhaif

Clearly a larger than average pencil

Clearly a larger than average pencil

School/year: 2nd Medicine, RCSI Bahrain

Blog date: 07/06/2015

I am from the small island of Bahrain which is located in the Arabian/Persian Gulf (we’re still debating about the name because…..well it wouldn’t be the Middle East if we weren’t arguing). I enjoy playing a variety sports, eating all kinds foods (Om nom), and reading many books. I’m currently studying medicine at RCSI, and I hope to pursue a career in surgery but also continue being involved in research and developing it in my country.

My project is supervised by Professor Xinliang Mao, whose research is focused on the ubiquitin proteasome system and its role in cancer, specifically multiple myeloma. We are looking at how UPS5, a deubiquitinase, affects the stability and expression of a transcription factor called c-Maf which is overexpressed in over half of myelomas. We are also looking how a novel drug will affect the proliferation of multiple myeloma cell lines. This week much of the work has been focused on immunoprecipitation and Western blotting which will reflect whether or not UPS5 affects expression of c-Maf. We also cultured various types of myeloma and prostate cancer cell lines for later transfection.

garden pic

At the Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou with IRSS and Soochow University students

Thus far China has been quite the interesting experience. You see new things everyday, things you wouldn’t normally in your culture. It’s a nice mix of work and play on my part, as I feel the environment allows you to focus on your work but also gives you the freedom to enjoy yourself when you feel like it. Our hosts are very welcoming and have made much efforts to help us settle in as well so I have to give them a big thanks for that.

ahmed 2

Giant ice cream in Shanghai, just because we can

Student name: Aoife Bourke

School/year: 3rd Medicine, RCSI Dublin

Blog date: 15/06/2015

rice fields

At the tea fields in Hangzhou, that’s me on the left.

I’m from Dublin and just finished my 3rd year of medicine. I love travel and over the past year I have spent a summer in San Francisco, a semester in Bahrain and now a summer in China. The cultural differences have been fascinating! I’m particularly interested in the field of genetics as it is so rapidly growing. Ideally I would like to work in a hospital as I enjoy the ever-changing schedule and interacting with a wide variety of people on a daily basis. I would also like to be involved in research projects throughout my career as I appreciate the need to progress and contribute academically.

I am currently working on a project under the supervision of Professor Zhen Xuechu. The aim of this project is to identify microRNA dysregulation in schizophrenia to identify possible targets for its treatment. We will also be investigating the effect of microRNA mimics on some of these targets. This week I was involved in the various laboratory techniques used in this project such as RNA extraction, cell transfection, fluorescent microscopy, RT-PCR and Western blot.

This week we attended an organic chemistry lecture given by one of our PIs. The Chinese students were quite shocked to see us walk into their classroom! We’ve all been keeping very active- testing out the local climbing wall, playing badminton or basketball with others in our lab, some of the boys even joined in a football match with the staff. We explored the local area including Dushu Lake and went out for food at nearby squares. We also took a weekend trip to Hangzhou in the neighbouring province where we visited temples, pagodas, tea fields and hiked around the beautiful West Lake.

So far I’ve really enjoyed my time here in Suzhou. All of the staff and students have been extremely welcoming and I’m learning a lot about lab techniques that I’ve never done before. The campus has fantastic facilities from its 8 canteens to countless sports grounds. We’re getting plenty of opportunities to explore the area, meet new people and do a bit of travelling as well. Though the language barrier can be difficult to overcome sometimes, it does make for some entertaining games of charades.

temple 2

Visiting a temple in Hangzhou



lake 2

Hiking around the West Lake, Hangzhou

night lake

Crossing the West Lake at night


Student name: Eoin Coughlan

School/year: 3rd Pharmacy, RCSI Dublin

Blog date: 22/06/2015


Me (right) with Aoife and Ruadhán, hiking the Great Wall of China

I am a Pharmacy student from Dublin. I will be going into my final year in the BSc. Pharmacy course in September. I have previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry during my summers and regularly work in a community pharmacy during the year. I plan to work in either industry or research upon completion of my MPharm.

My host Principal Investigator (PI) is Professor Huabing Chen, his field of research is nanomedicine. My project involves developing therapeutic and diagnostic (theranostic) protein-based nanoparticles for the treatment and imaging of cancer cells. These tiny particles have a protein shell surrounding a core of manganese sulphide (MnS). They have a tendency to accumulate in tumour cells where their paramagnetic properties can be used to image the cells. The nanoparticles also exhibit a photothermic effect, where they rapidly increase in temperature when stimulated by a high frequency laser. This property can be used as a treatment for some cancers as the increase in temperature can kill the cancer cells. My project goal is to optimise the nanoparticles. I am using three different proteins as the shell for the MnS and altering different parameters in their formulation (pH, temperature, reaction time, protein concentration, etc.). This week I focused on varying the reaction times for the three different proteins.

This weekend Ruadhan, Aoife and I visited Beijing, where we hiked along the Great Wall, visited the Forbidden City and explored some of Hutongs (neighbourhoods made up of series of narrow lanes, in which you can find many restaurants and markets). We had our first hospital visit today. We were given a tour around the hospital by some of the members of the hospital’s pharmacy department and given an insight into their daily routine.

The experience so far has been amazing! The research during the week has been interesting and goal orientated. On the first week my PI explained what he wanted me to achieve by the end of the project, so I have had an idea of the end-point since the beginning which really helps put the daily tasks in perspective. The weekends have also been incredible. We’ve gotten to visit a different region in China every weekend so far and are going to try to see as much as we can before the two months are up.


Some local cuisine in the Forbidden City


Our view from the Great Wall of China

hospital visit

IRSS students with hospital pharmacy staff

Student name: Michael Yu

School/year: 3rd Medicine, RCSI Dublin

Blog date: 05/07/2015


pagodaI am a 3rd med student from Toronto, Canada. I enjoy exploring and discovering new things in life, so this research opportunity was perfect for me! Although I feel that its still quite early to decide on a career goal, my short term plan is to complete med school and complete my residency in a country that seems interesting and fun.

My project PI is Prof Guang Hui Wang and my mentor is Yan Zhang. The area I am researching is Parkinson’s Disease. Specifically, I will be exploring the mechanism behind the degradation of P-65, a transcription factor, through the administration of the drug FCCP, which was originally designed to be a weight loss drug. P-65 is an important regulator of inflammation, and when its levels increase, so do levels of other inflammatory molecules, including i-NOS, COX-2, TNF-alpha, and IL6. My project involves a lot of cell culturing, immunoprecipitation, and western blots. I’ve spent the first few weeks learning the techniques and I have recently begun to do them under supervision.

Taishan Mountain was the destination of choice this week. This is one of the most sacred mountains in China, boasting a 1,500 m climb to the top through stairs alone! It took us around 5 hours to climb up, although many people took a lot longer. This hike was especially memorable because we hiked at night so that we would be able to see the sunrise at 5 in the monring. By the end of it, we were all really sweaty and tired, but really glad we made it to the top!


The crowd atop Taishan Mountain


Sunrise on Taishan Mountain

Student name: Nessa Quinn

School/year: 2nd Pharmacy, RCSI Dublin

Blog date: 13/07/2015

My lab mates and I at the Uber Dragon Boat Festival Race on Dushu Lake

My lab mates and I at the Uber Dragon Boat Festival Race on Dushu Lake

I am a pharmacy student having just completed my second year of study in RCSI, and have thoroughly enjoyed my experience so far. One of the prime reasons I choose to study pharmacy was because of the diverse career opportunities the field has to offer, including the major area that is pharmaceutical research. I have also developed a keen personal interest in travel in recent years, so
unsurprisingly I was thrilled to receive not only the amazing research opportunity this summer school programme had to offer, but for that programme to be based here in Suzhou, the ‘Paradise on Earth’!

The research I am undertaking at Soochow University is in the area of Clinical Pharmacology, under the guidance of Professor Hongjian Zhang. My project is focused on assaying the function of two specific transporters present in the membrane of liver cells, namely OATP1B3 and NTCP. These transporters are responsible for the uptake of various drugs and substances into the liver cells, and can therefore have a major impact on drug metabolism and drug-drug interactions.

The mass spectrometer is used in the laboratory to test the concentration of substances within a sample. This week I worked on tuning the mass spectrometer, which involved testing samples containing known concentrations of my chosen drugs; the information obtained can now be used calculate the amount of these drugs taken up into cells expressing the transporters, thus quantifying the transporters’ effects.

An interesting lunch choice by my colleagues this week!

An interesting lunch choice by my colleagues this week!

Outside of the laboratories, this week my fellow RCSI students and I paid a visit to the Children’s Hospital of Soochow University. This modern facility had opened just one month previous to our visit. It was very interesting to see the numerous new technologies in place, such as the automated drug delivery system which distributes drugs from the inpatient pharmacy directly to each hospital
ward. We later spent the weekend in Shanghai, just a quick bullet train away, where we met up with a few friends and relatives from Ireland. We enjoyed sampling some new cuisine local to Western China.

Staff at the Children’s Hospital of Soochow University giving us a guided tour of the new facilities

Staff at the Children’s Hospital of Soochow University giving us a guided tour of the new facilities

Dinner in Shanghai with familiar faces from home

Dinner in Shanghai with familiar faces from home

As we approach the end of our stay, I can truly say this has been an invaluable experience. The laboratory work I have undertaken has granted me a great insight into research as a profession. I have been fortunate enough to work in a top class facility under an esteemed professor, and along-side wonderful students who have happily helped me, not only in the lab, but also with life here in China. So far during my stay I have travelled to two major world cities, five Chinese provinces, and the numbers are still climbing! I have made connections with so many interesting people from all over the world, and overcome the various challenges posed when living on a continent with such a diverse culture from our own. This has undoubtedly been an outstanding academic, cultural and personal experience that I will treasure, and I can highly recommend to any prospective students.


Student name: Ruadhán Ó Laoi

School/year: 3rd Medicine, RCSI Dublin

Blog date: 27/07/2015

Standing on the edge of the Great Wall of China at Zhuangdaokou

Standing on the edge of the Great Wall of China at Zhuangdaokou


One of the things I love most about RCSI is the international opportunities offered to its students. Having spent time in both Switzerland and Bahrain last year, for research and study respectively, my desire to integrate travel into college-life was fulfilled again with the initiation of the RCSI International Research Summer School in China. Although I am keen to work in the clinical aspect of medicine, I have often thought about integrating research into my professional career. This programme has given me the chance to experience such research, explore a beautiful new country and meet many new friends.

Here at Soochow University, I am working under Professor Xiaohu Zhang in the area of medicinal chemistry. A new anti-cancer drug, which works by inhibiting the Wnt signalling pathway, has recently entered stage 1 clinical trials. Our laboratory is synthesising structural variants of this drug to improve its activity.

In the Medicinal Chemistry lab

In the Medicinal Chemistry lab

I was given the task of synthesising four of these compounds. The last 2 weeks have been busy both inside and outside of the lab – I finished up my project by setting up reactions to make necessary intermediates and then used these to produce my fourth and final compound. This included many purification processes, using a combination of techniques such as extraction, chromatography and crystallisation. I then began to prepare a presentation for my colleagues and professor, as well as for the other RCSI students, to present this week!

Most notably over the last fortnight, we visited Hong Kong for a few nights, where we enjoyed scenic hikes, vibrant nightlife, exotic foods, great views and paddle-boarding! Dr. Garry Duffy also visited the previous week where he joined us outside of his busy schedule for some cultural activities such as calligraphy, making Chinese medicine bags and tasting an Asian BBQ. Besides this, we managed to visit the nearby canal-village of Tongli, as well as continue to sample the vast range of Chinese cuisine available nearby.

Taking to the East China Sea after a hike in Hong Kong

Taking to the East China Sea after a hike in Hong Kong

Skyline from the top of Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

Skyline from the top of Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

Professors and students from RCSI and SU make Chinese medicine bags and practice calligraphy

Professors and students from RCSI and SU make Chinese medicine bags and practice calligraphy

The experience has been eye-opening from both an academic and cultural point of view. I’ve gained an invaluable insight into medicinal chemistry research and can appreciate the work involved. Between the beautiful countryside and sleepless cities, the charming people and the incredibly different food and drink, I’ve also gained a terrific insight into Chinese life and culture. Although there are obstacles (including a very evident language barrier and some questionable food choices), the overall experience has been extremely positive and enjoyable, and is an opportunity I would definitely recommend to students in the future!

Visiting Tongli, a water town on the outskirts of Suzhou

Visiting Tongli, a water town on the outskirts of Suzhou