Grateful for the support in fighting cancer

Cancer researcher Tracey O’Donovan talks about her work, family, and a Women’s Little Christmas fundraiser
Grateful for the support in fighting cancer
Tracey O'Donovan, Breakthrough Cancer Research funded researcher, pictured at the launch of BEAT Ovarian Cancer Campaign. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

TELL us about yourself;

My name is Tracey O’Donovan. I am currently working in the Cork Cancer Research Centre, as a Research Fellow. My degree was in Biological and Chemical Science and from there I went on to do a PhD — which allowed me to examine the mechanisms of chemoresistance in oesophageal cancer.

We started out as a small group working in the Mercy University Hospital, but quickly grew and moved to purpose-built labs in the BioScience Building on UCC’s campus. From there — to facilitate our ever growing group — we moved to our new facility on the fourth Floor of the Western Gateway Building in December, 2015.

Where were you born?

In Leap in West Cork. I went to a local primary school in the village, Scoil an Chroi Naofa. I then went to the Convent of Mercy in Skibbereen, an all-girls school which took advantage of the adjacent St Fachtna’s De La Salle all-boys school for subjects like physics and chemistry.

Where do you live?

In Bandon, Co Cork — which is a great location, not too far from West Cork and a manageable commute to work in the mornings. It’s a great town, with businesses always making an effort to keep the sunny side out, despite a number of flood-related setbacks in the past.

To alleviate the serious flooding endured by Bandon town, a relief scheme has begun which will involve the instalment of flood defences in combination with dredging and widening of the Bandon River.


I’m the middle child in a family of five.

My eldest brother Danny lives in Bandon with his wife and family, working with Apple in Cork, my older sister Eithne is living and teaching in the beautiful town of Nantwich, Cheshire, with her partner Mark.

I have a younger sister, Helen, living in Bandon and working in Eli Lilly, and a younger brother living in London with his wife and family — working in the crazy world of finance/trading.

My parents are both from West Cork and my mum returned to Bandon in 2005, much to the delight of the many local bridge clubs.

Best friend?

That’s a tricky question — and without upsetting the rest of my family, I would say my sister Helen. She and I were in UCC together as undergraduates, we supported each other through our PhD’s.

She has always been a huge support to me and we both recently returned to Bandon where we run together, cycle in the local Bandon cycling club and even joined Bandon Golf Club together.

Earliest childhood memory?

I think that was “playing” in our playschool band. Triangle, or if you were lucky the one coveted drum. We marched up and down the corridor making noise. That and the birthday parties that were frequently thrown for us.

Person you most admire?

The person I admire most is my mum. For anyone that knows her — the reasons are clear.

Person who most irritates you?

People who lie — some who do it out of habit and maybe don’t even realise they are doing it, but either way, I just find it’s so much easier to keep it simple.

And the other group of people are those that don’t or won’t give you an answer to a question because they feels it’s better to give no answer rather than an answer that they feel you may not want to hear — exhausting!

Where was your most memorable holiday?

Skiing in Austria — any resort really — the people and the atmosphere are incredible. Just go and have fun for a week — no obligations and no worries and the mountain air does amazing things for a slightly fuzzy morning feeling.

Favourite TV programme?

From those I have seen, Game of Thrones I would say, or perhaps Peaky Blinders, although slight problems with broadband in my area have left me slightly in the dark of late.

Favourite radio show?

Sean O’Rourke, Drivetime or Doc On One on RTÉ Radio One.

Your signature dish if cooking?

Oh, I try to keep it simple — recently, spicy spicy fajitas, or halloumi burgers or perhaps a mushroom risotto.

Favourite restaurant?

Café Paradiso in Cork, just for the sheer choice of vegetarian dishes, crammed full of flavour.

Last book you read?

Liz Nugent’s Lying In Wait — great read and great author.

Best book you read?

The aforementioned and I also love any of the Everest, K2, Antarctic adventure books. The real life stories of endurance, in particular those of the Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton and Creen time — they just amaze me.

Last album/CD/download you bought?

I download songs but rarely albums. I’m a great fan of Shazam, hearing a song I like and adding it to my playlist… it is vast and varied.

Favourite song?

Twenty one pilots – Stressed out, Christine and the Queens — Tilted, Peter Sarstedt — Where do you go to my Lovely… The list goes on and on without any one favourite.

One person you would like to see in concert?

I would have loved to have seen Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby or Edith Piaf in concert.

Do you have a pet?

I have two cats, Pomme and Sam. Rescues and adorable.

Morning person or night owl?

Night owl.

Your proudest moment?

Buying my own home in Bandon — which was also how I met my partner Mark Kelly — I guess you could call it a win win situation.

Spendthrift or saver?

Oh, spendthrift for sure — there’s no denying that one. Household, garden, clothes and shoes — it’s impossible not to be, I think.

Name one thing you would improve in your area in which you live?

Broadband and mobile coverage — but they are a work in progress.

What makes you happy?

Sunshine and blue skies.

How would you like to be remembered?

I would hope someone would remember me — for a little while anyway… but I think once we’re gone — we’re gone!

What else are you up to at the moment?

In my role in the Cork Cancer Research Centre, we focus on trying to improve the response of difficult to treat cancers to the commonly used chemotherapeutics.

Many poor prognosis cancers are either initially resistant, or develop resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs. Loss of normal cell death mechanisms plays a key role in this resistance.

Research we have already performed has identified genetic differences between cancer cells that respond and those that do not. We have identified a number of genes that can dramatically improve how cancer cells respond to chemotherapy.

Understanding these novel genes and how they regulate death and survival in cancer cells will enable us to identify new ways of activating cell death mechanisms, so that chemotherapeutic regimes can be improved and recurrent disease eliminated in cancer patients.

I was also part of the BEAT Ovarian Cancer Campaign, which runs each May to highlight the signs of Ovarian Cancer.

My current research programme is funded by Breakthrough Cancer Research, an Irish cancer research charity based in Cork, through their fundraising and events such as the upcoming Women’s Little Christmas Afternoon Tea and Fashion Showcase.

We are very grateful for the support of the people of Cork which enables us to focus our efforts on our research.


The Women’s Little Christmas Afternoon Tea and Fashion Showcase in aid of Breakthrough Cancer Research takes place in The Cork International Hotel on Saturday, January 6. Treat yourself and the ladies in your life to the perfect gift this Christmas, an afternoon of fashion, glamour and pampering.

Tickets are now on sale for €40 each but are selling fast! Call 021 4226655 or go to for more details.

More in this section

Sponsored Content