Fiona Furlong

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Research Interests

Dr Fiona Furlong graduated in 1998 with a B.Sc. in Pharmacology from University College Dublin, and completed her Ph.D. in mammary gland biology in 2003.  Dr Furlong continued her post-doctoral research career as a cell biologist in UCD, spending a short time researching diabetic nephropathy.  In 2008, Dr Furlong was awarded a career development research grant from the Irish Cancer Society which began her interest in understanding the mechanisms of chemoresistance in ovarian cancer.  In 2012, Dr Furlong joined the School of Pharmacy, QUB, as a Lecturer of Pharmacology, where she is currently researching the underlying mechanism of action of a number of candidate microRNAs in chemoresistant ovarian cancer and triple negative breast cancer.

Research Statement

We have led the field in describing the cell cycle effects of miR-433 and demonstrated that miR-433 negatively regulated the mitotic arrest deficiency protein 2 (MAD2) which abrogated spindle assembly checkpoint (SAC) responses in cancer cells.  As the expression of miR-433 is highly deregulated in a number of cancers and associated with poor patient survival, this data highlighted a very important consequence of how miR-433 can compromise the cell cycle in which aberrant miR-433 expression may mediate resistance to chemotherapy.  MiR-433 overexpression also resulted in cellular senescence arising from a functional inactivation of the retinoblastoma protein (Rb) by a mechanism which involved the downregulation of another cell cycle protein, CDK6, by miR-433.  Our current studies are focused on mechanistic studies to characterise how higher miR-433 expression may be linked to stemness in cells as a result of selective pressure from culture in high doses of chemotherapy. 


These in vitro functional studies of microRNAs are also supported by immunohistochemical (IHC) analyses of protein expression in patient samples in which we have collaborations in the UK, Ireland and the USA.   A critical component of our research is the application to the clinic.  Previous work highlighted how loss of the miR-433 target protein, MAD2, was a significant and independent marker of poorer survival in patients with ovarian cancer and on-going studies involve the analysis of a number of the miR-433 target proteins in patient formalin fixed and paraffin embedded (FFPE) tissue samples and functional studies of primary cell cultures.  These studies set the stage for the development of a diagnostic biomarker test of chemoresistance.


Analysis of triple negative breast cancer samples led to the discovery of several additional microRNAs of interest that are also associated with chemoresistance.  Work is ongoing to develop the research of these microRNAs to levels already achieved for the miR-433 microRNA.  While we predominantly research miRNAs associated with aberrant expression in cancer cells, our research interests also include other disease states such as, Diabetic Nephropathy.  Future work will focus on expanding our research to include a variety of disease backgrounds and cell contexts. 


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