Almac Discovery and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and have announced a research collaboration aimed at understanding how to target therapy-resistant cancer tumors.
Move could open up new treatment options for difficult to treat conditions
Professor in genetics and head of department Aoife McLysaght led the research which focused on neurodevelopmental disorders including ADHD, developmental delay, schizophrenia and intellectual disability.
It involved a novel new way to look at disease-related DNA not by studying the genes as they are today but by watching their evolution over time, said Prof McLysaght, whose research is funded by the European Research Council.
The researchers were interested in places where the DNA made multiple copies or deletions of itself. They also wanted to see what genes near these places were doing.
Humans all have these duplicates and deletions that vary in size and seem random, but the Trinity team noticed a pattern when they were near a gene associated with a disease condition.
The copies and deletions tended to be longer near these genes but there were fewer of them, something that encouraged Prof McLysaght to make a link with “Goldilocks”.
“Our idea was that there must be some genes within these regions with Goldilocks properties – too much or too little duplication and things don’t work properly,” she said. “The number of copies must be just right.”
The group looked back over our evolutionary history, searching for genes that did not seem to tolerate too much or too little variation.
It found that there was far less variation around genes associated with neurodevelopmental disorders compared to genes that had no association with disorders.
This held true for humans but was also true for other mammal species including sheep, dogs, rabbits and gorillas.
Details of the work were published on Wednesday in Nature Communications.
The research shows that our evolutionary history could be useful for understanding human disease, Prof McLysaght said.
It could also make it easier to identify genes linked with a developmental condition.
“These metrics also allow us to home in on a short list of genes as candidates for the diseases in question,” she said.
Isolating disease-related genes will help explain why these conditions arise, provide better diagnostic tools and potentially help to develop new therapies, she said.
Dr Andrew Smyth, NUI Galway, has secured a prestigious Wellcome Post-Doctoral Training Fellowship award through the SFI-HRB-Wellcome Partnership to carry out a clinical trial to determine the effect of dietary modification on kidney disease. The award is worth €486,492 and will be co-funded by Science Foundation Ireland, the Health Research Board and Wellcome.
Using the award, Dr Smyth will also form collaborations with international researchers in McMaster University in Canada and the University of Oxford in the UK to help reveal the risk factors for, and impact of, kidney disease. They will also look at the effect of kidney disease on other aspects of health.
Commenting on the award, Dr Smyth said he is: “Very privileged to be given the opportunity to continue to further develop his clinical research skills.”
Speaking about the achievement, Dr Graham Love, Chief Executive at the Health Research Board said: “Securing this award is a real testament to Andrew’s research capability. These awards are not easy to get and we are delighted to work with SFI and Wellcome to help make them accessible to Irish researchers.”
Commenting on the award, Dr Darrin Morrissey, Director of Programmes at Science Foundation Ireland said: “Science Foundation Ireland would like to congratulate Dr Andrew Smyth as the first recipient in Ireland of this award. I hope that his success will encourage other clinician researchers to explore the opportunities available to support excellent and impactful research through the SFI-HRB-Wellcome Partnership.”
Head of Research Careers in Wellcome, Dr Anne-Maire Coriat, commented on the award saying: “We are delighted that Andrew was successful in his application for a Clinical Postdoctoral Research Training Fellowship, he is the first successful applicant from Ireland that Wellcome has supported since we launched the scheme for early postdoctoral fellowships in 2011. Research-active clinicians have an overwhelmingly positive impact on patient care but there are still many challenges facing clinicians who juggle clinical work and research. Our recent support for the Wellcome – Health Research Board Irish Clinical Academic Training (ICAT) Programme is a further example of our support for clinical academic research in Ireland – this award provides support for an all-Ireland cross-institutional, comprehensive national programme for Clinician Scientists based at six major Irish universities and their affiliated hospital groups.”
Wellcome’s existing schemes for postdoctoral clinical academics (the Clinical Postdoctoral Research Training Fellowship and Intermediate Clinical Fellowship) have recently been consolidated to establish a new scheme, the Clinical Research Career Development Fellowship. This offers the possibility of longer term support, and much greater flexibility in balancing research and clinical training. Those interested in finding out more, or applying, should visit: https://wellcome.ac.uk/funding/clinical-research-career-development-fellowships.
Further Irish success in securing funding
Recently, three more Irish researchers were successful in obtaining seed funding, worth over €350,000, from Wellcome through the same SFI-HRB-Wellcome Partnership. The Seed Awards are once-off awards of up to £100,000 (or euro equivalent) designed to help researchers develop a novel research idea, which could form part of a larger grant application in the future.
The three recent successful awardees are using their funding to understand the function of a novel molecule in killing breast cancer cells, to model the transport of drugs into diseased heart tissue and to generate models of motor neuron diseases using fruit flies.
Among the recipients was Dr Ellen Roche, based in NUI Galway also, will work on modelling the transport of drugs into diseased heart tissue using a novel, implantable device that is attached to the outer surface of the heart. Dr Roche’s work has the potential to ultimately improve treatment for patients with heart failure.
Seven researchers based in the Republic of Ireland have been successful in securing Seed Awards since the scheme opened in 2015. The closing date for the next round is 13 March 2017, with outcomes due in May 2017. Anyone wishing to apply can find more information on the scheme here: https://wellcome.ac.uk/funding/seed-awards-science
Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway
When I arrived in Ireland last September, alone on my first trip to Europe, I was reminded of how, as a young Muslim girl growing up in the State of Uttar Pradesh in India, I was always discouraged from travelling alone. Using public transport was prohibited because it would have exposed me to public gaze and increased the chances of harassment by strangers. My mobility was curbed for my own safety, I was told.
Living and studying away from home in New Delhi, for five years in a democratic and academic environment cultivated my personality, and my perceptions and beliefs evolved. Today, I see travel not only as a mode of exploring new geographical locations, but more importantly, of meeting new people with different perspectives and ideas.
Carrying my luggage on my back and travelling alone from one place to another on buses, trains and planes, has instilled in me the kind of self-confidence that no patronising protective institution ever could. As an Indian Muslim woman, I think this kind of self-realisation is a big achievement in itself.
I am currently pursuing my Masters in Women’s Studies at UCC and I’m able to study in this world-class institution because I was given this opportunity by the Irish Government in the form of a scholarship and for this, I am very grateful. I know that not all deserving people get to enjoy the privilege that I have been given.
I identify as an Indian Muslim woman because my personal experience and academic training gives me the confidence to assert my identity wherever possible and not just to be referred to as another ‘international student’.
I believe that our historical, political and social context play a vital role in shaping our future. My parents’ decision to send me away to study was one that led me to where I am today. It took me some time to comprehend that our political situation in society largely determines the kind of life we live. Discrimination is so rampant and systematic in society, that it has been internalised and normalised in our day-to-day lives.
If we critically analyse, we observe that the construction of language is also misogynistic. A girl like me at 24 would be expected to settle down, while for a guy this is the crucial time to establish himself professionally. The driving factor that led me to join the Women’s Studies MA programme at UCC was to challenge this social tendency and through my course, I intend to use gender as a tool of analysis for feminist research. After only one semester, I can already see my vision taking shape, thanks to the expert faculty and my amazing bunch of classmates.
Religion has always been used politically by the powerful elites to subjugate the weak. If we talk about Islam, it is seen to be a religion where women are treated as inferior to men with virtually no legal rights. However, we tend to forget that Islamic philosophy and Islamic practice are two different things. One of the most damaging phases for Islam was the age of feudalism that bred patriarchy, institutionalised misogyny and made a gender neutral compilation of the Qur’an and its interpretation something aggressively masculine.
As a critical believer who thinks that the emergence of Islam was a political response to the historical problems of that space and time, be it slavery, adultery, female infanticide, I challenge the perception that the same religion encourages gender discrimination.
I think the lack of female scholars in Islamic philosophy feeds into the misinterpretation of Islam. We need more women academics to research and investigate religious texts and to promote the basic philosophy before it can be manipulated against the economic and political development of women.
My aim is to become one of these academics by making the most of the resources I’ve been given by UCC so that we can be in a position to counter religious questions on a woman’s autonomy more theoretically. And thanks to the exposure and experience I have been given, I’m optimistic about that.
This university has given me the chance to speak, and more importantly, to be heard as a person of lower status, a woman belonging to a minority community in my country. In UCC’s conducive environment of bilateral learning, I feel comfortable and confident to voice what I think. In a set-up without hierarchy, I feel myself delivering my best and really being productive. It reaffirms my faith in academia and its role in building a better and more democratic world. Coming to Ireland and studying at UCC may be the best thing that has ever happened to me.
Samar Khan is studying for an MA in Women’s Studies at UCC. Students benefit from academic expertise across a range of disciplines including sociology, applied social studies, law, history, literature, philosophy, folklore, politics, linguistics, performance, popular culture, and religions. Find out more here: https://www.ucc.ie/en/womensstudies/mainwomensstudies/ or follow @uccwomenstudies on Twitter.
- LGBTQ+ activist is one of youngest to be recognised
- PhD researcher honoured for efforts to bring disruptive tech to developing world
UCD students Sam Blanckensee and Colin Keogh have been named in Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list of people “who will impact Europe for the next 50 years.”
The listing features 300 young leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs under the age of 30 who are transforming areas including business, technology, media and culture.
He is National Development Officer at Transgender Equality Network Ireland and Education Officer at Irish Trans Student Alliance.
Forbes described him as “an outspoken voice for the trans community across Irish media and politics.”
Blanckensee was part of the lobbying effort that helped pass legislation to allow people to self-declare their gender and receive new birth certificates.
Blanckensee received a UCD President’s Award in 2014 for work advocating for the rights of transgender students inside and outside the UCD community.
PhD student Keogh was featured for his work towards “using low-cost disruptive technologies to help improve the world.”
He was named in the Science and Healthcare category.
It aims to put “technology such as 3D printers and low-cost electronics in the hands of people who need it most in developing countries.”
The Rapid Foundation was a recipient of the 2016 Fritz Schumacher Award.
By: Jonny Baxter, digital journalist, UCD University Relations
In case you’ve ever wondered what connects your intestine to your abdomen, there’s a word — and now, a single organ — for that: the mesentery. But don’t worry; you haven’t grown a new organ. It’s always been there, performing important functions that affect systems throughout the body, from cardiovascular to immunological.
What does it do?
Why has it been misunderstood?
Improving surgery and treatment
The Undergraduate Awards (UA) gathered 150 of the world’s top undergraduate students in Dublin for the 2016 UA Global Summit in Dublin, including seven students from Trinity College Dublin.
Cited as the ultimate champion of high-potential undergraduates, and often referred to as a “junior Nobel Prize”, The Undergraduate Awards is the world’s largest international academic awards programme, recognising excellent research and original work across the sciences, humanities, business and creative arts.
The Undergraduate Awards received a record number of submissions in the 2016 programme, totaling a massive 5,514 papers from undergraduates in 244 institutions and 121 nationalities. In each category, the Global Winner is the highest-performing paper overall and also within each category the Regional Winner is the highest performing Highly Commended paper from their region. Highly Commended Entrants are those who were ranked in the top 10% of submissions in each category.
In total, 58 different universities and 37 different nationalities were represented at the UA Global Summit this year. Ryerson University, Canada; Stanford University, USA; University of Johannesburg, South Africa and the University of Helsinki, Finland were among the institutions represented at the event.
The students received their medals and certificates at the UA Global Summit and were addressed by keynote speaker Dr. Mae Jemison, NASA Astronaut.
The winning students from Trinity College Dublin are:
- Eoin O’Leary – Global Winner – Social Sciences: Anthropology & Cultural Studies
- Stephen Cox – Global Winner – Literature: Non-English
- Naoise Dolan – Global Winner – Literature: English
- Ben Price – Regional Winner Island of Ireland – Art History, Music, Film & Theatre
- Rory Patrick Joseph Hennessy – Regional Winner Island of Ireland – Law
- Conor Mc Glynn – Regional Winner Island of Ireland – Philosophy
- Francis Ian Aristosa – Highly Commended – Nursing & Midwifery
Speaking about this year’s Winners and Highly Commended Entrants, CEO of The Undergraduate Awards Louise Hodgson said “This is a huge achievement for Trinity College Dublin and its students. UA received the highest number of submissions to date with only the best papers making it through the judging process – the competition was extremely tough and the Judges were astounded at the high quality of undergraduate research in the programme this year. Congratulations to this year’s successful entrants”.
The UA Global Summit took place the week of November 8th-11th in Dublin across several beautiful venues including Farmleigh House, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and City Hall, Dublin.
About The Undergraduate Awards
The Undergraduate Awards is the world’s largest international academic awards programme, recognising innovation and excellence at undergraduate level. Cited as the ultimate champion for high-potential undergraduates, UA identifies leading creative thinkers through their undergraduate coursework and provides top performing students with the support, network and opportunities they require to raise their profiles and further their career paths.
A University of Limerick (Ireland) professor has identified an emerging area of science having reclassified part of the digestive system as an organ.
The mesentery, which connects the intestine to the abdomen, had for hundreds of years been considered a fragmented structure made up of multiple separate parts. However, research by Professor of Surgery at UL’s Graduate Entry Medical School, J Calvin Coffey, describes the mesentery as one, continuous structure.
In a review published in the November issue of one of the top medical journals, The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology, Professor Coffey outlined the evidence for categorising the mesentery as an organ.
“In the paper, which has been peer reviewed and assessed, we are now saying we have an organ in the body which hasn’t been acknowledged as such to date,” Professor Coffey stated.
Better understanding and further scientific study of the mesentery could lead to less invasive surgeries, fewer complications, faster patient recovery and lower overall costs.
“When we approach it like every other organ…we can categorise abdominal disease in terms of this organ,” professor Coffey said.
According to Professor Coffey, the Foundation Chair of Surgery at UL’s Graduate Entry Medical School and University Hospitals Limerick, mesenteric science is its own specific field of medical study in the same way as gastroenterology, neurology and coloproctology.
“This is relevant universally as it affects all of us. Up to now there was no such field as mesenteric science. Now we have established anatomy and the structure. The next step is the function. If you understand the function you can identify abnormal function, and then you have disease. Put them all together and you have the field of mesenteric science…the basis for a whole new area of science,” he said.
“During the initial research, we noticed in particular that the mesentery, which connects the gut to the body, was one continuous organ. Up to that it was regarded as fragmented, present here, absent elsewhere and a very complex structure. The anatomic description that had been laid down over 100 years of anatomy was incorrect. This organ is far from fragmented and complex. It is simply one continuous structure,” Professor Coffey explained.
Already, medical students around the world are, from this year, learning about the mesentery as a continuous organ, after research by Professor Coffey prompted an update in one of the world’s best-known medical textbooks Gray’s Anatomy.
UCC’s Limited Lactis team was awarded a gold medal recently at the iGEM (international Genetically Engineered Machine) competition in Boston.
More than 600 teams from top universities across the globe, including MIT, Harvard, Stanford, Cambridge and Oxford took part in the competition, which is held up as the gold standard for ‘research-led education’.
The Cork team, the only Irish entrants in the competition, used the bacterium Lactococcus lactis, a generally recognised as safe (GRAS) bacterium, commonly used in food production, to develop a potential new vaccine against Leishmaniasis, a neglected tropical disease which is increasing in geographical distribution, and also cancer.
Synthetic Biology is a burgeoning approach to designing and making novel products from biology, which is revolutionising what is possible in tackling world needs in health, energy, food and beyond.
Leishmaniasis affects some of the world’s poorest people and is associated with malnutrition, population displacement, poor housing, a weak immune system and lack of financial resources. An estimated 900,000–1.3 million new cases and 20,000-30,000 deaths occur annually. Leishmaniasis is linked to environmental changes such as deforestation, building of dams, irrigation schemes, and urbanisation.
The UCC team worked voluntarily, both in the laboratory and beyond, engaging with people in disease-affected regions such as Honduras, where diseases like Leishmaniasis is a serious problem. Team instructor, Yensi Flores, a PhD candidate at the Cork Cancer Research Centre and APC Microbiome Institute, travelled to Honduras to gain an insight into the realities of developing a suitable treatment for Leishmaniasis. She connected the team with various stakeholders on the ground. The team also engaged in significant outreach work, teaching Cork school pupils about synthetic biology and conducting charity fundraising activities.
The team, which was comprised of students from UCC Pharmacy, Medicine, Genetics, and BioMedical Science andhosted by the APC Microbiome Institute, Cork Cancer Research Centre and the School of Biochemistry, received financial support from the APC Microbiome Institute, Breakthrough Cancer Research, UCC College of Medicine & Health, Fyffes, the EU, Janssen and Eli Lilly.
“I was blown away with how much was achieved in such a short time by undergraduate students, and how sophisticated the resulting technology is, all due to the enthusiasm of the students and the power of Synthetic Biology,” said Mark Tangney PhD MBA, Cork Cancer Research Centre & APC Microbiome Institute, UCC.