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About Dr Sharon McKenna

   Dr Sharon McKenna

Biography Summary

Dr. Sharon McKenna is a Principal Investigator at Cork Cancer Research Centre and leads the Autophagy research theme. Her team are investigating how autophagy influences cancer biology and chemo-resistance. Her group have also been evaluating how biomarkers can predict response to chemotherapy and how novel drug combinations can improve the efficacy of chemotherapy.

Theme / Team

Autophagy, Cell Differentiation

Cancer type(s)

Leukaemia, Ovarian cancer, Pancreatic cancer, Colorectal cancer, GI cancer , Oesophageal cancer, Bowel cancer, Stomach cancer


+353 (0) 21 420 5710

Email Address


Biography Detailed

Dr. Sharon McKenna graduated from the University of Leicester in 1990 with an Honours Degree in Molecular Biology. She obtained her PhD at the Leukaemia Research Fund Laboratories, in the University of Wales, College of Medicine, Cardiff, UK 1995. Following post-doctoral research at Cardiff and the Department of Biochemistry, UCC, Dr. McKenna was appointed College Lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry, UCC in 1999. She lectured on various aspects of Biochemistry and the Molecular Basis of Disease to undergraduate Science, Medical and Dental students. Dr. McKenna was also group leader of the Signal Transduction Laboratory. In 2002, Dr. McKenna was appointed as a Principal Investigator at the Cork Cancer Research Centre (CCRC). She is responsible for the direction of the Autophagy program at CCRC and is also responsible for the supervision of graduate research projects including PhD’s and MD/PhD’s.


Constitutive autophagy is a necessary homeostatic process, which removes damaged organelles and thus can be protective against cancer. However, when a cancer is established – autophagy takes on new roles and helps cancer cells to survive in growth limiting conditions and helps them to resist chemotherapy. Inducing excessive autophagy leading to Type II cell death can also be a major mechanism for killing cancer cells. It is therefore imperative to understand how to negate the survival functions of autophagy and drive signalling towards a cell death process. Current research in this group is aimed at modulating autophagy for therapeutic benefit. This includes identification of novel molecular targets and evaluation of novel treatment regimen’s to promote death programs in cancer cells.