Ulster University graduate inspired by her late father to pursue a career in personalised medicine

8 July 2021

Ulster University graduate inspired by her late father to pursue a career in personalised medicine
Ulster University graduate inspired by her late father to pursue a career in personalised medicine

Alisha Coll graduates this summer from Ulster University with a BSc in Stratified Medicine.

Hailing from Carrigans in Co. Donegal, Alisha was inspired by her late father James to pursue a career in healthcare. He sadly passed away from melanoma in 2009 when Alisha was just ten years old,

“I have great memories of my Dad that I believe laid the foundation of my interest to pursue a career in medicine.  From treating injuries with his blue first aid kit to watching him take charge at the scene of a car crash, his integrity and selflessness made me eager to help people like he did. During his illness, I witnessed the amazing work of the staff at the Donegal Hospice. The nurses went above and beyond to provide the best care for my Dad.”

Alisha had originally applied for medical school but unfortunately was unable to secure a place. Instead she decided to accept a place at Ulster University to study Stratified Medicine where she quickly found her passion,

“Although not my first choice but I am very thankful that I ended up doing the course. I quickly realised how important personalised medicine will be for the future of healthcare. The concept of using genetics and lifestyle factors to treat disease instead of prescribing different treatments in the hope that one will work intrigued me. It made me think back to when my Dad was sick and our local community raised money for him to travel to Germany to receive treatment after previous treatments had failed. In the end he was too sick to travel but what if he had received this treatment earlier? Or if it had been available here in Ireland? I believe that personalised medicine will take away some of this doubt for patients and their families. If we can prescribe ‘the right treatment, for the right person, at the right time’ we can provide patients with the high standard of care that they deserve.”

For her placement year Alisha worked at NI Clinical Research Services with Dr Geraldine Horigan where she was able to put her knowledge and skills from her course into practice,

“My placement was an amazing experience that created a lot of opportunities for me. I had the opportunity to work on different research studies in areas of Alzheimer’s Disease, COVID-19 and nutrition in pregnancy.”

Taking inspiration from her father’s diagnosis, Alisha’s final year project focused on melanoma research.  She undertook this project under the guidance of Dr Taranjit Singh Rai in the Northern Ireland Centre for Stratified Medicine centre at C-TRIC. Rai lab studies a process called cell senescence and its role in cancer and ageing. Senescence happens when a cell encounters a damage. Alisha looked at one such protein and its gene in melanoma patients.  This gene when mutated may result in worse prognosis for melanoma patients. Alisha is currently in the process of completing the analysis for publication.

Alisha is excited for what the future holds and will be starting her new role as a research assistant at C-TRIC in Altnagelvin.


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