Toppling the Pillars of Cancer Cell Biology

by Caitrin Crudden, PhD candidate at the Karolinka Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.

Caitrin in the lab

Caitrin in the lab

Picture an expansive galaxy in your head. A vast space with thousands of twinkling dots.
As seconds pass, connections flash from dot to dot – fast enough to disappear before you can even focus on one – generating an intricate, pulsating web.

I’m not a cosmologist. I’m a cancer cell biologist, and I study subcellular signalling. You probably already know that cancer is a disease of uncontrolled cell growth. But cancer cells have not gained an alien skill in order to do so; they use the exact same growth signalling pathways that every other one of your cells uses. In a cancer cell, relatively small tweaks occur in normal signalling pathways, which render them dysfunctional, often hyperactive. But the galaxy-like expansive and pulsating web of communication imagery goes part way in describing the system we are dealing with. Subcellular signalling is vast and mind-numbingly complicated, and in all of the decades of molecular biology so far, we are still piecing links together with every additional study.

But a galaxy-like network, somewhat like the task, is quite overwhelming and daunting. For simplicity, let’s imagine one signalling pathway in isolation, a bit like a chain of children in the school playground, playing a game of whispers. A message is passed from one child to the next child down the line, but instead of the usual hilarity of miscommunication, our hypothetical game is pretty exact. An un-fun version of playground whispers, if you will. Much like those children in the playground, in a cell, a message is passed from one part of the cell to another by sequential messenger molecules. For example, a message can be sent around the body in the blood in the form of a molecule. This molecular message binds to a receptor that sits on the surface of a cell prised waiting for this exact signal. The binding of the molecular message to this receptor flicks it from off to on. An on receptor turns on a nearby molecule, this on molecule turns the next molecule on, and so on and so forth, until the message is passed to the nucleus. Here, it tells the cell which genes are to be transcribed, in order to build proteins to accomplish a specific cellular task. In cancer, one or more of these signalling pathways stops working correctly because of a genetic mutation in a messenger molecule. To continue the metaphor, basically a child in the middle of chain decides to go a bit rogue.

Cell Signalling

Cell signalling

Let’s take an example. There’s a proliferative signalling pathway called the mitogen activated protein kinase pathway or simply MAPK to its friends. In the middle of it is a molecule called Ras. Normally, this pathway fires a nice concise signal in response to a message from somewhere else in the body, that tells this cell that it needs to grow and divide into two daughter cells. Maybe, for instance, the human overlord has acquired a pesky paper cut and the cells need to grow to close the wound. In that case, the message binds to a receptor on the cell, a growth factor receptor, which communicates to Ras, and Ras turns on to communicate the signal to the next molecule, which passes on to the next, and down and down a chain of messenger molecules into the nucleus, which initiates the steps that need to take place for the cell to divide. In this normal efficient situation, Ras returns to its off state as soon as it has efficiently passed its signal onto the next molecule, and in doing so, ensures a safe and distinct message is given. A successful game of un-fun playground-whispers, and everyone can pat themselves on the back and go about their day.

A common mutational event in cancer is that Ras picks up a genetic mutation that means it becomes stuck in the on position. We call this constitutive activation, which basically just means stuck-in-the-on-position. With Ras constantly on, the signal is continuously fired from it to the next molecule, even in instances when it is inappropriate for the cell to divide. Hence, these cells acquire uncontrolled growth, outgrow their neighbours and can continue to mutate and grow and move and invade and…I think you all know how this story ends.

So the answer seems logistically simple – turn Ras off, right? However, frustratingly Ras turns out to be a pretty much un-druggable molecule. Despite huge effort, the 3D surface of the protein doesn’t have pockets in which a potential drug could bind and correct it. However, efforts have been more successful in drugging its next-in-line messenger molecule, Raf. If, in our hypothetical chain of school children playing whispers, there’s one mischievous kid in the middle adding rubbish in willy-nilly, that didn’t come from anyone before her, the damage is minimized if the next partner in line simply doesn’t pass the nonsense on. Raf inhibitors showed great promise in pre-clinical development, and in clinical trials of metastatic melanoma, a truly horrible aggressive disease. Things started to look up.

Until – Bam! The drugs stop working. In a patient who initially responded well, the disease comes back – and it’s more aggressive then ever. A heart-breaking yet frustratingly common scenario. The cell is a highly dynamic system with a lot of inter-connected pathways that can flip back and forth when needed, and a cancer cell, because of its unstable genome that is prone to mutations, is even more adaptable. You can put a road block in the signal chain – Ras’s whisper-partner keeps quiet, but cunning Ras simply finds another buddy in the playground to blurt rubbish to, aaand we’re back to square one. As useful to our understanding as chain-schemes are, the network-like galaxy, in all of its sobering complexity, is more realistic. You can start to get an idea of the difficulty of treating this disease.

So, what now? Some of my current work, and that of others, is trying to optimize multi-target approaches. If a cell can circumvent the Raf or similar inhibitor road-blocks quite rapidly, we must simultaneously or synchronously take away its back up options, in a highly choreographed bank and forth dance to the death. The idea is that a multi-target network approach, which removes back-door options, minimizes adaptation of cancer cells to inhibitors and hence drug resistance. The hope is that if we design smart enough multi-target approaches, we might just be able to topple the pillars of survival that these cells rely on.

Max Delbrück, a 20th century geneticist wrote;

“Any living cell carries within it the experiences of a billion years experimentation by its ancestors. You cannot expect to explain so wise an old bird in a few simple words.”

Nor can you outsmart it, with simple strategies.

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Ireland’s Ratification of the CRPD: What Does It Really Mean?

by Donna McNamara, PhD candidate at the School of Law and Government, Dublin City University.
CPRD map

A 2016 map showing the status of CRPD ratification

 

On Wednesday, the 7th of March 2018, the Government finally passed a motion to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities– eleven years since Ireland signed the Convention.[1] This marks a historic day in the fight for disability rights and is the culmination of a lengthy campaigning and advocacy among the disability community. Nevertheless, the celebratory mood is somewhat tinged with uncertainty.

As of now, it is unclear what reservations and declarations will be made on the rights to legal capacity, deprivation of liberty and employment.[2] It is also unclear if (or when) Ireland will ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention, a separate instrument which would allow for individuals and groups of individuals to take a complaint to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the case of an alleged violation of their rights. So, while the Government’s commitment to the rights of persons with disabilities is worth celebrating, it is also important to note that there is still a long way to go before we achieve full equality for people with disabilities in Ireland.

What is the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol were adopted by the UN General Assembly of the United Nations in 2006.[3] The first human rights treaty of the twenty-first century, it quickly gained international support to become one of the fastest ratified treaties in UN history. The Convention adopts a broad definition of persons with disabilities, to include:

[T]hose who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.[4]

The Convention is the product of an international disability rights movement which advocated for the full and effective participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities in international human rights laws. During the treaty negotiations, people with disabilities and their representative organisations and NGO’s were invited to participate directly in the debates and treaty discussions. The motto ‘Nothing about us, without us!’ featured predominantly throughout these negotiations and since become synonymous with the spirit of the Convention – no longer is it acceptable for persons with disabilities to be excluded in decision-making in matters relating to them.

The rights contained within the Convention are wide-ranging and include the rights to non-discrimination, equal recognition before the law, access to justice, a right to liberty, a freedom from torture and other cruel and degrading treatment, among others.[5] Article 3 also sets out a list of guiding principles which are intended to guide the interpretation of the Convention, and include: respect for inherent dignity and autonomy, non-discrimination, full and effective participation, respect for diversity, equality of opportunity and equality between men and women, accessibility and respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities.

 

Ireland’s Progress So Far

Over the past eleven years, the reason for Ireland’s persistent delays in ratifying the Convention was attributed to a number of legislative changes that needed to be addressed to ensure Ireland’s compliance. In 2016, the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill was brought forward ‘to remove the statutory barriers to ratification of the Convention.’[6] While this Bill was heralded as one of the final steps towards ratification, it has yet to progress to the Committee Stage in the Dáil. There are also serious concerns about the deprivation of liberty safeguards that are due to be introduced at committee stage – thereby reducing the opportunity for engagement with persons who are affected by this legislation to participate in the debates.[7]

Further clarity is also necessary in regard to how the right to liberty under Article 14 of the Convention will be protected. Article 14 provides an absolute prohibition on the deprivation of liberty on the basis of disability and is one of the core human rights protections outlined in the Convention. The lack of transparency in this area is most worrying when one considers the numbers of people with disabilities living in social care homes unnecessarily, including young people.[8] As of 2017, there were more than 1,200 people under the age of 65 (most with disabilities), living in nursing homes.[9] It is imperative that the 2016 Bill introduces safeguards to address these issues, in line with Article 14, in order to ensure that people with disabilities are not deprived of their liberty unlawfully.

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 has also experienced delays, with a number of key sections yet to be commenced. The Act, which was signed by the President on the 30th December 2015, provides for the abolition of the existing Ward of Court regime and introduced a new Decision Support Service within the Mental Health Commission to support those persons in decision-making. This is in line with Article 12 of the Convention, which provides that all persons with disabilities have the right to equal recognition as persons before the law, and where necessary, should be supported to make decisions for themselves without resorting to substitute decision-making. States Parties are therefore required to put in place support structures to enable people to make their own decisions and abolish existing substitute decision-making regimes (including guardianship or in the Irish context, Wardship).[10]

One of the main aims of the 2015 Act was to repeal the existing Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871, which established Wardship and provides for a comprehensive framework of substitute decision-making in Irish law. Section 15 of this Act permits any individual to make an application to the Office of the Wards of Court, where they believe a person is of “unsound mind.”[11] If an individual is admitted to Wardship, they are thereby denied the right to exercise personal decision-making, which may include decisions about where to live, the ability to consent to medical treatment, entering and concluding contracts, and decisions to marry or have a relationship. These decisions are taken over by the President of the High Court, who may also appoint a Committee of the Ward, to make decisions which are in the Ward’s “best interests.” Despite the introduction of the 2015 Act and the growing consensus that similar regimes are contrary to the CRPD, the numbers of applications for Wardship continue to rise.[12] It is estimated that 300 people are made Wards of Court every year in Ireland; of this number the large majority of cases involve dementia or age-related illnesses.[13]

Once the 2015 Act is commenced, it will provide for the review of all existing Wards of Court within three years of the date of the Act’s commencement, introduces new support measures for decision-making and facilitates the making of Advance Healthcare Directives. Although the Act was introduced to meet Ireland’s obligations under the Convention, it is apparent that ‘it clearly does not comply with the requirements of’ Article 12.[14] Of concern, the 2015 Act retains a form of substituted decision-making through the use of decision-making representatives, in such cases where it is believed that the person lacks all capacity and decisions need to be made on their behalf.[15] While it is unclear at the moment what exact reservations or declarations will be made by the Government in respect of Article 12, it is clear that the current 2015 Act is non-compliant with the UN Committee’s interpretation of Article 12 and this will need to be addressed going forward.

Going Forward

It is particularly disappointing that the Government did not announce plans to ratify the Optional Protocol alongside the Convention, which would allow for the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to hear claims from or on behalf of individuals in respect of a violation of their rights.[16] A failure to ratify the Optional Protocol would have knock-on effects in respect of Article 13, on the right of access to justice, which is integral to the rule of law and includes the right to have ‘effective access to the systems, procedures, information, and locations used in the administration of justice.’[17] A refusal to ratify the Optional Protocol would inherently limit the effectiveness of the Convention and calls into question Ireland’s commitment towards advancing the rights of persons with disabilities.

 Ireland’s long overdue ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities should be celebrated for the longstanding commitment and perseverance of the disability rights community. But, the journey has only just begun – and it must look beyond legislative changes. It demands a full reconsideration of the way we operate as a society and breaking down all existing barriers, including barriers to health care, education, employment, public transportation and so forth.

As part of this, we also need to raise awareness throughout all sectors of society in order to combat stereotypes relating to persons with disabilities and promote awareness of their rights, dignity and capabilities.[18] Sufficient resources are required to support civil society organisations to continue their work in this area, in the spirit of the ‘Nothing about us, without us’ movement. Article 33(3) of the Convention requires that civil society organisations, and in particular persons with disabilities and their representative organisations, are involved in the monitoring process.

Together, we must commit to the objectives of the Convention, which is to ‘promote, protect and ensure’ the rights of persons with disabilities as we go forward and continue to advocate for full implementation of the Convention.

References:

[1] See the transcript of the Dáil debate here: https://www.kildarestreet.com/debates/?id=2018-03-07a.457&s=uncrpd#g498

[2] See the Governments’ Roadmap to Ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD), available here: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Roadmap%20to%20Ratification%20of%20CRPD.pdf/Files/Roadmap%20to%20Ratification%20of%20CRPD.pdf

[3] The CRPD and the CRPD Optional Protocol were adopted during the 61st Session of the General Assembly: see GA Resolution 61/611, 13 December 2006

[4] UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 1.

[5] UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities , Article 5 (non-discrimination), Article 10 (right to life), Article 12 (equal recognition before the law), Article 13 (Access to Justice), Article 14 (Liberty and security of the person), Article 15 (Freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment).

[6] Statement by Finian McGrath TD, Minister of State with Special Responsibility for Disability Issues, 31 January 2017.  Available here: http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/SP17000029

[7] See Inclusion Ireland, Briefing Note: Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 (January 2017) available here: http://www.inclusionireland.ie/sites/default/files/attach/basic-page/1110/inclusion-ireland-briefing-note-disability-miscellaneous-provisions-bill-2016.pdf

[8] Only 4% of persons with intellectual disability live in an independent setting: see Inclusion Ireland, Deinstitutionalisation in Ireland; a failure to act (Inclusion Ireland, 2018).

[9] RTE, ‘More than 1,200 people under 65 living in nursing homes for the elderly’ (8 August 2017) RTE Available: https://www.rte.ie/news/2017/0808/895907-disabilities-nursing-homes/ l

[10] Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ‘Article 12: Equal recognition before the law’ (United Nations 2014, General Comment No. 1.) para 7.

[11] The Act states that application can be made concerning an individual who is of unsound mind and is incapable of managing their property. When assessing the application, the court must be satisfied that the person and/or their property must be in need of protection or where there is some benefit to the proposed individual in being admitted to wardship.

[12] In 2016, 311 people were made wards, up from 237 in 2015. See Mary Carolan, ‘Ward of court system does not protect vulnerable adults – HSE’ (The Irish Times, 16th January 2018) Available: https://www.irishtimes.com/news/crime-and-law/ward-of-court-system-does-not-protect-vulnerable-adults-hse-1.3356303

[13] Courts Service, ‘Annual Report 2016’ (2016) Available here: http://www.courts.ie/courts.ie/library3.nsf/pagecurrent/AC7C2772ABD0E1F880257FC0003D294C?opendocument&l=en&p=155, 57

[14] Charles O’Mahony and Catriona Moloney, ‘The Impact of International Human Rights Law on Irish Mental Health and Mental Capacity Law Reform’ (2017) 23(1) Medico-Legal Journal of Ireland 24-30, p. 27.

[15] Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015, Section 38

[16] Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Article 1

[17] Janet Lord, Kathy Guernsey, Joelle Balfe, Valerie Karr and Nancy Flowers, eds, Human Rights. Yes! Action and Advocacy on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Minneapolis: Human Rights Resource Center, 2009), Chapter 12, para. 12.1.

[18] CRPD, Article 8

Dracula and the Ottomans

Dracula and the Ottomans

by Gemma Masson, PhD candidate at the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham.

Like most people who went through a teen-vampire-infatuation phase, I became aware of Dracula at a young age, spending my pocket money to buy the Penguin edition of Bram Stoker’s Gothic classic and receiving the expected ribbing from my peers for my “morbid” interests. As a keen historian throughout school, I was also aware of Vlad the Impaler and the fact that many of the history documentaries I watched avidly on TV connected the two. Years later, when I began to pursue my graduate studies in my chosen field of history, my interests shifted to focus on the Ottoman Empire (how and why this happened is another story entirely) and so I started reading everything I could get my hands on. The fifteenth century was a key period for the Ottomans, centring around the 1453 capture of Constantinople (AKA Istanbul). This was the victory of Mehmed the Conqueror, son of Murad II, who had previously…..oh hello? Who’s this? Things just got a lot more interesting.

 

 

An ambitious sultan, Murad had turned his attention towards Europe and devoted much time and energy into expanding his realms and influence in that direction. In doing so, he came up against the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order specifically founded to keep the Ottomans out of Europe. Vlad II was the ruler of the Principality of Wallachia, which lies within modern day Romania. He was also a member of this order, hence his title ‘Dracul’ (The Dragon). Both politically and geographically, Vlad II found himself between the proverbial rock and a hard place, with the Hungarian rulers to the West staunchly in favour of forcefully expelling the Ottoman Turks from Europe, and the Ottomans pressing from the East. This Catch-22 scenario led to Vlad II compromising and breaking treaties and usually counting on being able to talk his way out of a sticky situation.

Murad reached a point in 1442-3 where he was no longer willing to take Vlad II’s promises on good faith and sought a more tangible guarantee of good behaviour. This manifested in the taking of Vlad II’s two youngest sons, Vlad – later to become known as Vlad the Impaler, and Radu, to the Ottoman court. Ostensibly hostages, the two young princes were subjected to an education as befitted their rank, learning not only warfare, horsemanship and combat skills, but also Turkish, Arabic, the Koran and Islam, with all the accompanying philosophy and history that implies. During their time at the Ottoman court, they came into contact with Prince Mehmed, the future Mehmed The Conqueror.

The brothers were both very different boys and they grew into very different men. Radu, the youngest, was nicknamed ‘cel Frumos’, meaning ‘the Beautiful’ or ‘the Handsome’, which was a sobriquet he lived up to – charming every man and woman he met. He was much favoured by Mehmed, and the two became very close, with some sources claiming they were lovers. Vlad, on the other hand, could not have been more of a stark contrast to his brother. Dark, surly and quiet where his younger sibling was fair and charming, Vlad maintained his hatred of the Ottomans and, though living amongst them for years, never saw them as anything but the enemy. While Radu was being won over by Ottoman culture, viewing their captivity as good fortune, Vlad also sought to make the best of the situation by applying himself to learning everything he could. He studied everything about the Ottomans, intending, at the first opportunity, to use the knowledge against them. He took his fathers oath to rid their lands of the Turks as his own mission.

Historians Gavin Baddeley and Paul Woods have examined the time the boys spent at the Ottoman court in their youth through the lens of modern psychological theory, using Freud to argue that the young Impaler’s experiences would have had a profound affect upon his adult personality.1 While the argument could be made that, by the standards of his contemporary time, at thirteen or fourteen years old Vlad was already a man when he arrived at Murad’s court. Children were required to mature very rapidly at this time, and the children of the nobility doubly so, as they were to be groomed as leaders and warriors from birth. However, there is no denying that his time with the Ottomans did shape much of his adult life, much of it spent fighting them and using the knowledge he had gained there.

Baddeley and Woods also address the question of Radu labelling his conversion to Islam and his complete assimilation into Ottoman culture as a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome.2  Arguably Radu, as the younger, was still more malleable and open to coercion than Vlad. Another contributing factor could have been the boy’s natural differences. While Vlad was fully committed to the role of prince and warrior. Radu, with his fondness for fine things and comfortable living, found peace and compromise to be more acceptable and better for his country, even if it meant his entering Ottoman service. The desire to feel safe and accepted was doubtless contributed to by the constant uncertainty of their position: one wrong move on the part of their father, and the boys would have been punished. Such an environment would contribute to the stress and anxiety of the boys, causing each to react in their own way.

Into adulthood, each prince became more rigid in his convictions and the rift between them grew. Upon the death of their father and older brother Mircea in 1447, Murad (then re-enthroned after a brief interregnum during which Mehmet was on the Ottoman throne) sent Vlad to claim the throne of Wallachia with the understanding that he would rule as an Ottoman vassal and pay the traditional tribute. Why Murad felt he had succeeded in winning Vlad to his cause is baffling. It is likely that Vlad played his part well and paid lip service to the sultan in order to gain his freedom. Even if the sultan had his doubts in terms of legitimacy, Vlad had the superior claim to the throne, with Radu being both too young and too obviously Ottoman in his dress and manners. Murad, a shrewd ruler, would have seen the sense of allowing the elder brother to have his throne. However, life as an Ottoman vassal was the last thing Vlad had in mind. Taking to himself the title ‘Dracula’, meaning ‘Son of the Dragon’, in memory of his father, Vlad began mustering his resources to fight the Ottomans.

Owing to the apocryphal, almost mythical nature of the stories about Vlad which have survived it is hard to know how accurate sources are. What is clear is that the sultan sent emissaries to Dracula’s court to discover why Vlad had not sent the promised tributes owed to the Ottoman court. Konstantin Mihailovic, a Serbian convert in service to the Ottomans, writes in his memoirs that the sultan’s emissary, Hamza, had been impaled along with the rest of his party.3

When this news was received at the Ottoman court the sultan called for Radu, who had remained behind when Vlad returned home and, according to Mihailovic,

“Having risen, the Emperor took him by the hand and seated him alongside himself on the right side in another somewhat lower chair and ordered that a purple garment of gold cloth be brought and placed on him.”4

The implications of this are more than the sultan simply showing favour. The reference to a cloak of purple and gold is key. The Ottomans were very keen to showcase themselves as the rightful inheritors of the Roman Empire by right of conquest, and they did this by co-opting visible and obvious elements of the cultures they conquered in a bid to legitimise the inheritance and make it acceptable to the population. Imperial purple was the colour worn by Roman magistrates, and later the rulers of both the Holy Roman Empire and the Byzantine Empire, the latter of which the Ottomans would finally defeat in 1453 with their taking of Constantinople. In clothing Radu in purple and gold, the sultan not only shows him favour but marks him as a future ruler. After Vlad’s death in 1476 in battle, Mehmed did enshrine Radu in his place. Owing to the convoluted nature of warfare and politics at the time, Radu reigned twice after his brother’s death.

The problem with verifying historical events in the life of Vlad is that much primary documentation concerning his life is missing, for one reason or another and thus histories have often been resurrected on folk tales and oral accounts making much of the information we have on this individual somewhat apocryphal. Given the huge amount of scholarly literature on the novel, I am forced to confine myself to a brief discussion of the person of the Count and his identity as Vlad Dracula which, in itself, is a contentious subject. Professor Elizabeth Miller raised the issue of identity in her 1997 paper entitled ‘Filing for Divorce: Count Dracula vs. Vlad Tepes’ in which she acknowledges that Stoker found the name ‘Dracula’ in a copy of An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia (1820) by William Wilkinson, which he borrowed from the Whitby Public library in the summer of 1890. However, this text suffers from the same problem that many histories of the family have in that ‘Dracula’ is used to refer both to Tepes’s father, also called Vlad and the Impaler himself. Wilkinson also seems to have translated ‘Dracul’ into ‘devil’ in the English instead of ‘Dragon’, arguably a more accurate interpretation due to the family connection to The Order of the Dragon.5 Miller concludes that Stoker gained his total knowledge of Vlad from Wilkinson, and as such any deeper connections to the Impaler beyond the borrowing of a name are circumstantial and that serious scholarly effort should be made to distinguish the differences between the historical Voivode and the Vampire of Stoker’s creation. Dracula historian Raymond McNally responded to Miller’s article in his own paper entitled ‘Separation Granted; Divorce Denied; Annulment Unlikely’ in which he argues that historians and literature scholars are well aware of the division and able to separate myth from fact.6 However, it is all very well to say that scholars and academics can make the distinction but for someone like Dracula, so prevalent in popular culture, I agree with Professor Miller that a popular distinction should be made.

In conclusion, the relations between the Ottoman Empire and the family of Vlad Dracula were much more long-winded and complex than I have stated here. However, perhaps next time Francis Ford Copella’s classic is aired on TV we might spare a thought for the real life history which often inspires such characters and events. The truth might not always be stranger than fiction, but it can certainly be just as interesting.

1   Gavin Baddeley & Paul Woods, Vlad the Impaler: Son of the Devil, Hero of the People, (Ian Allan Publishing Ltd, Chatham, 2010)

2   Ibid

3   Konstantin Mihailovic, Memoirs of a Janissary, trans. Benjamin Stolz, (Markus Wiener Publishers, Princeton, 2011)

4   Ibid

5   Elizabeth Miller, ‘Filing for Divorce: Count Dracula vs Vlad Tepes’ accessed at http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~emiller/divorce.html on 6th August 2013.

6   Raymond McNally, ‘Separation Granted; Divorce Denied; Annulment Unlikely’, Journal of Dracula Studies, No 1, 1999.

Running with Grace

Running with Grace

As mentioned previously here on the blog, a group of us will be running the Great Limerick Run on 6th May 2018, in memory of Grace McDermott, co-founder of Women Are Boring, who died tragically just hours after running the same race in 2017. The group includes Grace’s fiancé Colin O’ Neill (who came up with this wonderful idea), and friends and family from all over the world – some will be travelling from Grace’s home of New York in the U.S. to take part.

Many of us (including myself and Grace’s fiancé, Colin) will be running our first ever race, and everyone involved is running to raise money for a good cause. We would love to have your support!

I’m running for Women’s Aid, the Irish organisation that has been working in Ireland to stop domestic violence, sexual violence, and coercive control against women and children since 1974. If you can spare some money, no matter how small, you can support me, and Women’s Aid, here: https://great-limerick-run-2018.everydayhero.com/ie/catherine 

Colin (and many others involved!) are running for Cradle, an Irish NGO that looks after children and supports communities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Moldova, Thailand and Ireland. You can support Colin and all the other wonderful people who’ll be running on 6th May here: https://justgiving.com/fundraising/colin-o-neill1

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. Please share with your family and friends, and join us in Running with Grace!