Our research

Our research focuses on the role played by sex steroids called androgens in human health and disease.

Androgen excess

Androgen excess in women is predominantly associated with a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which affects up to 10% of all women. PCOS is associated with metabolic diseases such as diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Our group examines the impact of androgen excess in women with PCOS on energy metabolism in important tissues, such as muscle.

Androgens and cancer

Dr McIlroy has a defined research focus on the impact androgens in cancers associated with aging and metabolic disease, specifically post-menopausal breast cancers. Through translational, multi-disciplinary research Marie is dedicated to making tangible advances in the treatment of these diseases. The association between endocrine cancers and diet and lifestyle means that they are becoming increasingly common. By modelling endocrine therapy resistance in breast cancer we can explore the impact of tumour derived steroids on cell metabolism, senescence and invasiveness.
Dr McIlroy’s group are utilizing 3D bioprinting technology to generate hydrogel encapsulated cell-line and patient-derived tumours with a view to developing this as a high-content screening strategy to evaluate therapeutic response to new drug targets.

One of the fundamental features of cancer cells is their extraordinary ability to obtain fuel in nutrient-poor tumour microenvironments to fulfil the high energy demand for cell growth, survival, stress response and proliferation. Accumulating evidence suggests that these mechanisms are required for tumour progression, especially during dormancy, the development of resistance and metastasis. Previously published data from my group has shown that the androgenic steroid environment that results from endocrine therapy in breast cancer induces gene changes associated with poor response to conventional estrogen/estrogen receptor (ER) targeting therapies.

The unique approach of Dr McIlroy’s group is to manipulate the steroid microenvironment across different genetic backgrounds followed by validation in clinical cohorts. We hope that integration of the individual patient steroid profile when investigating cancer recurrence will add in a crucial and often overlooked piece of the puzzle.

Androgen deficiency

Androgen deficiency in men (or hypogonadism) is also associated with significant health consequences, including a risk of type 2 diabetes, weight gain and metabolic disease. Our group is currently researching the role played by androgens in men’s health by examining the metabolic consequences of testosterone deficiency due to conditions such as testicular failure, pituitary tumours and medication-induced hypogonadism.