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Device that could heal diabetic foot ulcers using DNA gets €1.3m funding

Diabetic foot ulcer
Patient with diabetic foot ulcer receiving treatment. Image: kirov1976/Shutterstock

Those living with diabetic foot ulcers will be happy to hear that a new device aims to treat the ailment with DNA.

The AMBER centre and Dr Cathal Kearney of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland have been awarded €1.3m to alleviate something that affects thousands of people in Ireland: diabetic foot ulcers.

People living with diabetes across the world are at risk of foot ulcers, with up to a quarter of the 422m-strong diabetic population expected to suffer from the ailment in their lifetime.

The ulcers are very difficult to heal and are often prone to infection, which can lead to amputation. In 2015 in Ireland, 2,400 people were hospitalised with them, with nearly one in five leading to amputations.

The new funding was provided under the European Research Council’s (ERC) Starter Grant for groundbreaking research and will now allow Kearney to assemble a team to develop his research titled ‘BONDS: Bilayered ON-Demand Scaffolds for diabetic foot ulcers’.

The goal of this new programme is to develop a device that will support the body’s own cells to grow new tissues to repair skin damage on the foot caused by ulcers.

The device will be made of a sponge-like material and DNA will be delivered inside it, directing cells to heal the wound.

Could benefit diabetes patients globally

Kearney said: “I am honoured to have been awarded this prestigious research grant from the ERC. This research has the potential to change that for the better for people with diabetes, not only in Ireland but across the world.”

The ERC’s Starter Grant is quite prestigious in European academic circles, with this being just one of two awarded to Irish institutions this year, out of a total of 406.

Carlos Moedas, European commissioner for research, science and innovation, said: “Top talent needs good conditions at the right time to thrive. The EU provides the best possible conditions at the early stages of a researcher’s career through the ERC Starting Grants. That’s why this funding is so crucial for the future of Europe as a science hub: it keeps and attracts young talent.”

The news coincides with the promising results seen in a test that could help those living with metabolic conditions such as diabetes, using a patch that can convert unhealthy white fat into more manageable brown fat.

By Colm Gorey

RCSI Researcher Awarded Research Council Grant for Ground-Breaking Research into Diabetes

Dr Cathal Kearney receives one of just two prestigious grants awarded this year to Irish institutions
Dr Cathal Kearney from RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) Department of Anatomy and the Science Foundation Ireland funded AMBER (Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research) centre has been awarded a €1.375 million European Research Council’s (ERC) Starter Grant for ground-breaking research to combat diabetic foot ulcers. The highly prestigious grant supports researchers across Europe to set-up their own research teams and pursue potentially life-changing innovations. In total, 406 grants were awarded this year to projects across Europe with Dr Kearney receiving one of just two given to Irish institutions. 
People with diabetes across the world are at risk of diabetic foot ulcers with up to a quarter of the 422 million diabetic population expected to suffer from the ailment in their lifetime. These wounds are very difficult to heal and are often prone to infection which can lead to amputation. It is estimated that every 30 seconds a limb is amputated as a result of a diabetic foot ulcer. In Ireland alone, 2,400 people were hospitalised in 2015 with the condition and 451 of these cases resulted in amputations.
Dr Cathal Kearney, Principal Investigator in the Tissue Engineering Research Group, RCSI received the funding for his research titled ‘BONDS: Bilayered ON-Demand Scaffolds for diabetic foot ulcers’. The goal of this research programme is to develop a new technology-driven device that will support the body’s own cells to grow new tissues to repair skin damage on the foot caused by ulcers. The device will be made of a sponge-like material and DNA will be delivered inside the device using a novel technology. The delivered DNA will then direct cells that enter the device to heal the wound.
Speaking about the funding, Dr Kearney said: “I am honoured to have been awarded this prestigious research grant from the ERC. In Ireland, it is estimated that €70 million/year is spent on the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers, with almost one in five cases resulting in amputation. This research has the potential to change that for the better for people with diabetes not only in Ireland but across the world.”
Director of Research and Innovation at RCSI, Professor Ray Stallings, welcomed the announcement saying: “This award to Dr Kearney is a testament to his stellar research in the area of biomaterials, and the expertise of RCSI’s Tissue Engineering Research Group that is addressing health issues arising from a range of chronic conditions such as diabetes. This innovation could transform the lives of diabetes patients across the world, and we look forward to seeing the outcomes of Dr Kearney’s work as his research expands as a result of this important grant.”
Dr Kearney has previously secured the prestigious Fullbright scholarship to attend MIT and Harvard University and the Marie Sklowdowska-Curie Fellowship at RCSI. His innovative work on drug delivery has been published in a number of high impact journals. Dr Kearney combines his research interests with a passion for teaching, having won the RCSI President’s Teaching Award 2017.
These coveted ERC Starter Grants support research in the life sciences, physical sciences and engineering, and social sciences and humanities and form part of the “Excellent Science” pillar of the European Union research and innovation programme, Horizon 2020.
Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation, said: “Top talent needs good conditions at the right time to thrive. The EU provides the best possible conditions at the early stages of a researcher’s career through the ERC Starting Grants. That’s why this funding is so crucial for the future of Europe as a science hub: it keeps and attracts young talent.  This time the ERC attracted researchers of 48 different nationalities based in 23 European countries. It’s an investment that will pay off, boosting the EU’s growth and innovation.”
RCSI is ranked among the top 250 (top 2%) of universities worldwide in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2018). It is an international not-for-profit health sciences institution, with its headquarters in Dublin, focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide.

More than 540 New Students Welcomed as Orientation Week 2017 Begins at RCSI

RCSI welcomed its new cohort of students to the College. 540 students began their courses in Medicine, Pharmacy and Physiotherapy and will get to know their way around the College, while also being introduced to the academic and administrative staff.

This year’s undergraduate intake of 441 Medicine students, 67 Pharmacy students and 32 Physiotherapy students come from Ireland and a host of other countries across Europe, North America, Australia, the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

The Heads of RCSI’s three Undergraduate schools, Professor Arnold Hill (School of Medicine), Professor Paul Gallagher (School of Pharmacy) and Professor Marie Guidon (School of Physiotherapy) welcomed their respective new students to RCSI this morning with an opening address which kicked off Orientation Week.

Further speeches were delivered by Philip Curtis, Associate Director of Admissions and Student Services, Dr Orna Tighe, Vice Dean for Student Support and Development and Ronan Tobin, Head of Student Engagement and Development. The students were provided with an overview of the extensive range of academic and non-academic supports that are available to all students in the College. The Students’ Union also briefed the new incoming students about the range of social activities that they have organised as part of Fresher’s Week and introduced the Clubs and Societies which play such an important part in the life of an RCSI student.

The 2017 Buddy Programme also got underway with second and third year Pharmacy, Physiotherapy and Medicine students volunteering to act as ‘buddies’ for the new students this year. The Buddies provide an invaluable resource in the form of friendly, knowledgeable and experienced students, who welcome the new students to RCSI for the first time and provide them with first-hand knowledge about the College, the courses, extra-curricular activities and student life in Dublin.

Later today Professor John Hyland, President of RCSI, will host a reception which is an opportunity for our new student’s families to join in the excitement of the beginning of their life as an RCSI student. The President will provide an overview of the College and its wider activates. This will be followed by a presentation from Professor Clive Lee, Head of Anatomy, who will provide a unique perspective on RCSI and some of its distinguished graduates. Students and their families will also have the opportunity to meet with academic and non-academic staff at the President’s Reception.

On Tuesday, 5 September, the White Coat Ceremony will take place in No. 26 York Street. The White Coat Ceremony is undertaken in the first week in College as a common ceremony for all Medicine, Pharmacy and Physiotherapy students and Physician Associates – to mark their new role as student health professionals. Students are invited by Professor Hannah McGee, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, to make a commitment to professionalism that mirrors the graduates’ declaration recited at their conferring day, and that signals the responsibilities they must begin to undertake as trainee health professionals from the start of their programmes.

The symbolism of having all disciplines start together recognises their common pathway in developing professional competence – and the importance of teamwork in healthcare delivery. The ceremony will be live streamed on the RCSI website from 5pm to enable families and friends who are unable to attend the event can watch proceedings from anywhere in the world.

As well as orientation, it is also Freshers’ Week for the students. There are a wide variety of social events organised including sign-up day for Clubs and Societies on Wednesday, 6 September; the Freshers’ Festival on Thursday, 7 September in the RCSI sports grounds in Dardistown and a ballad session on Friday, 9 September to close the week.

Oatmeal, Healthy Bugs And A Happy Heart

“Oatmeal; healthy bugs and a happy heart “ according to research published today by scientists at the Science Foundation Ireland-funded APC Microbiome Institute in Cork.
Pictured are (left to right):
Prof Noel Caplice, Professor of Cardiovascular Science, Director of the Centre for Research in Vascular Biology and investigator APC Microbiome Institute, UCC, Prof Catherine Stanton, leader of the research, APC Microbiome Institute and Teagasc Food Research Centre, Moorepark, Co. Cork, and Dr Paul Ryan, APC Microbiome Institute, UCC.
Picture: Cathal Noonan

PC Microbiome Institute scientists have confirmed that gut microbes play a role in heart health.  We also demonstrated that we should consume porridge regularly to get the benefits of oat beta glucan for heart and gut health!

Our study, published in Microbiome, found that consumption of oat beta glucan not only lowered blood cholesterol in mice, it also helped keep body weight down and altered both the composition and functionality of the gut microbiota.  The level of butyrate, a type of fatty acid produced by gut bacteria which has been previously shown to protect against diet-induced obesity in mice, was elevated in this study. Oat beta glucan also acted as a prebiotic, and increased bacteria in the gut which are being explored by others to treat obesity.

Plant sterol esters, which too were tested in this study, were found to be the most effective in lowering blood cholesterol and helping to avoid plaque build-up, but caused the greatest weight and adiposity gains and adversely affected the gut microbiota composition of the mice.

Cardiovascular disease is currently responsible for approximately 30% of deaths annually across the globe.  Diet and exercise are known interventions to prevent or slow down the development of atherosclerosis but it has become evident that our gut bacteria also contribute.

In the study mice were fed a high fat diet together with either a food supplement or medication over a period of 24 weeks.  The food supplements used in the study were plant sterol ester (the plant equivalent of cholesterol, currently added to some foods) and oat beta glucan (found in porridge).  The drug used was Atorvastatin, one of the ‘statin’ group of drugs. The particular mice used are susceptible to the build-up of cholesterol in their arteries because they are apoE-/- deficient.

Atorvastatin and plant sterol esters are known to reduce levels of ’bad‘ cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) and triglycerides in the blood, while increasing levels of ’good‘ cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL).  They are used to treat high cholesterol, and to lower the risk of stroke, heart attack, or other heart complications in people with type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, or other risk factors. In this study, mice treated with Atorvastatin had similar physiology to the mice treated with oat beta glucan (reduced body weight and percentage body fat).

The takehome message is to take porridge regularly to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease whilst also protecting your gut microbiota.

Reference

Paul M. Ryan, Lis E. London, Trent C. Bjorndahl, Rupasri Mandal, Kiera Murphy, Gerald F. Fitzgerald, Fergus Shanahan, R. Paul Ross. David S. Wishart, Noel M. Caplice and Catherine Stanton (2017) Microbiome and metabolome modifying effects of several cardiovascular disease interventions in apo-E-/- mice Microbiome DOI 10.1186/s40168-017-0246-x

New Confirm research centre at UL is a ‘game changer’

New Confirm research centre at UL is a 'game changer'
The launch of the Confirm research centre at the University of Limerick is a game-changer for Irish manufacturing competitiveness according to its director.

The launch of a new World-class research centre at the University of Limerick is a game-changer for Irish manufacturing competitiveness according to its director.

The €47 million Confirm centre will be led by UL and Professor Conor McCarthy, with Tyndall National Institute, University College Cork, Cork Institute of Technology, NUI Galway, Athlone Institute of Technology, Maynooth University and Limerick Institute of Technology as academic partner institutions.

The new centre will address ways to optimize production systems, adding intelligence and enhanced information technology.

“Confirm will act as a beacon for international talent in the areas of advanced manufacturing from robotics to artificial intelligence,” said Prof McCarthy following the launch.

The new centre, which is funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the industry, is one of four which was launched by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week.

“Investing in leading-edge scientific and technological research is good for our economy and helps us to discover new innovations which can improve our quality of life. Our SFI Research Centres represent a virtuous triangle between government, industry and higher education, and show just what can be achieved when there is a shared vision about reaching your ambitions.”

Barry O’Sullivan, general Manager of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care which has operations in Plassey, has welcomed the launch of the new research centre at the University of Limerick.

“Confirm will allow us to enable customer-driven customization. So it’s not just about automation, it’s about tailoring more customer-focused solutions so that we can add more value and bring more business back into Ireland,” he said.

Founder of Wikipedia to headline event at Trinity College Dublin

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales with U2’s Bono

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is set to take part in a talk at Trinity College Dublin next October.

The Alabama native, who previously ranked as one of TIME Magazine’s most influential people is set to discuss the fight against fake news, the launch of his recent news website WikiTRIBUNE, and how threats to online knowledge-sharing can be combatted with evidence-based journalism.

The event celebrates Ireland’s Internet Day in Trinity College Dublin on Thursday, October 26 and tickets can be booked online.

Now in its third year, Ireland’s Internet Day, aims to promote awareness, knowledge, use and understanding of the internet in Ireland by its citizens, businesses and communities.

It highlights the achievements of Irish and international internet entrepreneurs and the impact on society of the internet innovations and technologies.

Mr Wales, founded the free encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, in 2001. Wikipedia is the fifth most visited website globally and counts half a billion unique visitors each month.

Mr Wales is also the president of Wikia, a for-profit wiki hosting company that allows users to build their own specialised wikis typically relating to a specific interest or ‘fandom’.

On a mission to combat the rise of ‘fake news’ with evidence-based journalism, this year Mr Wales will launch WikiTribune.

Jimmy Wales’s Internet Day address will take place on Thursday, 26 October at 18:15 in the MacNeill Theatre, Hamilton Building, Trinity College Dublin. Tickets cost €15, with all proceeds going to CoderDojo, the volunteer programming club for young people. Click here to book your ticket.

New Study at UCC Shows How Your Gut Bacteria Could Influence Anxiety

As it turns out, a healthy gut microbiome could affect the development of conditions relate to anxiety or anxiety-like behavior. The new study by researchers from the APC Microbiome Institute showed the connection in tests involving mice.

 

IN BRIEF

As it turns out, a healthy gut microbiome could affect the development of conditions relate to anxiety or anxiety-like behavior. The new study by researchers from the APC Microbiome Institute showed the connection in tests involving mice.

A HEALTHY GUT MICROBIOME

A team of researchers from the APC Microbiome Institute of the University College Cork in Ireland has stumbled upon an intriguing connection between the bacteria living in the human gastrointestinal tract and anxiety. While there are studies that link anxiety-like behaviors to the gut microbiome, this is the first that makes a connection between the microbes and a particular kind of biological molecule called microRNA (miRNA) in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex of the brain.

“Gut microbes seem to influence miRNAs in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex,” lead research Gerard Clarke said in a press release provided by BioMed Central. “This is important because these miRNAs may affect physiological processes that are fundamental to the functioning of the central nervous system and in brain regions, such as the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, which are heavily implicated in anxiety and depression.”

The team was able to identify this connection by comparing mice grown in a germ-free environment (GF mice) with normal mice. In the GF mice, 103 miRNA’s in the amygdala and 31 miRNA’s in the prefrontal cortex differed with ordinary mice. Furthermore, adding back gut microbes into the GF mice later on normalized these levels.

A TREATMENT OPPORTUNITY

Within this study, published in the journal Microbiome, Clarke and his colleagues also observed how depleting the gut microbiota — the collective community of microscopic organisms — of adult mice using antibiotics affected miRNA levels in the brain in a manner similar to GF mice. How this worked remains unclear, so further studies are needed before it might be replicated in clinical tests.

Still, the potential of these findings could offer an alternative approach to treating anxiety-like behavior. Instead of targeting miRNA in the brain, which can be tricky, “our study suggests that some of the hurdles that stand in the way of exploiting the therapeutic potential of miRNAs could be cleared by instead targeting the gut microbiome,” Clarke explained.

According to the most comprehensive study on anxiety to date, about 1 in 13 people around the world experience anxiety or anxiety-related behavior. It’s the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting around 18.1 percent of the population or some 40 million adults every year. It may soon be possible to hep all these people by giving them a healthy gut microbiome.

University of Limerick president to introduce ‘no smoking zones’

University president Dr Des Fitzgerald has outlined that UL is moving towards becoming a ‘smoke-free’ campus
University president Dr Des Fitzgerald has outlined that UL is moving towards becoming a ‘smoke-free’ campus

The University of Limerick is moving towards having a ‘No-Smoking’ campus, its president Dr Des Fitzgerald has announced.

Dr Fitzgerald said there will be designated smoke-free areas all around the campus in the coming months, with some being introduced next month.

The full details of the number and the locations of the smoke free zones are currently being finalised and will be announced in advance of implementation.

In addition, UL will be offering support programmes for students and staff seeking help to quit smoking.

“This is a programme close to my heart,” Dr Fitzgerald told thousands of graduating students last week.

“Through this initiative we aim to create a model of excellence and to promote a healthy environment in which to develop the minds and bodies of our students,” he added.

“UL has an outstanding reputation for its campus, for the care and support it provides students and for its sports culture, and the Healthy Campus Initiative is an important step in developing this further,” he said.

UL already has a ‘smoke free’ policy, which outlines that all employees and students have a right to work and study in a smoke-free environment and that all its enclosed workplaces are smoke-free.

Smoking is prohibited in all University controlled buildings, including all indoor facilities, single occupancy offices, meeting rooms and restaurants.

In  the context of this policy, ‘smoking’ includes the use of electronic cigarettes, electronic cigars, electronic pipes or other such electronic nicotine delivery systems intended to simulate smoking, whether they deliver a nicotine dose or not.

An anti-tobacco group, Action on Smoking and Health Ireland, has praised a number of institutions, including the Athlone institute and Westport College for their smoke-free campuses.

These colleges have completely banned the use of tobacco products on campus, including the use of electronic cigarettes.

University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin have also started the process to become completely smoke-free zones.

UCD spin-out company wins top prize at US start-up competition

  • Company’s products help to prevent falls among older people
  • In 2016, firm secured €590,000 from investors and Enterprise Ireland

University College Dublin spin-out company, Kinesis Health Technologies, has won the Tech Day start-up pitching competition in the United States.

At the Tech Day event, entitled ‘Technology and Ageing – Innovation for Independence and Innovation’, Kinesis pitched against eight other start-ups working in the ageing technology space from around the world.

The Irish company was declared the overall winner and won €3,900 prize.

Kinesis develops products that help to prevent falls among older adults by using wearable sensor technologies.

Healthcare professionals use Kinesis QTUG™, a Class I medical device, to identify those patients at risk of falls and prescribe an intervention to prevent them from falling in future.

Pictured: Seamus Small, CEO & co-founder, Kinesis Health Technologies, at the Tech Day start-up pitching competition in San Francisco where the firm won the top prize; and pictured on homepage at NexusUCD are Dr Barry Greene and Seamus Small, co-founders, Kinesis Health Technologies (Nick Bradshaw, Fotonic)

The device helps doctors to quantify a patient’s response to therapy and rehabilitation and also assesses patients for neurological disorders.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 30% of adults, over 65 years of age, fall at least once each year.

The direct and indirect societal costs of falls among older adults are enormous and in the US alone, such costs have been estimated to be in the region of $20 billion per year.

“This prize provides great recognition for the Kinesis team and provides further external validation of the value and impact of our products to the global ageing care market,” said Seamus Small, CEO and co-founder of Kinesis Health Technologies.

Kinesis was founded in 2013 by Seamus Small and Dr Barry Greene, as a spin-out company from the Technology Research for Independent Living (TRIL) Centre, a large ageing research programme, at UCD.

The company, an Enterprise Ireland High-Potential Start-Up (HPSU), has already secured customers for its products in Ireland, UK, US, Canada and Australia, and has partners in place in India, Japan, Germany and The Netherlands.

Kinesis is headquartered at NexusUCD, the Industry Partnership Centre at UCD.

Last November, Kinesis announced that it had closed its first investment round and secured €590,000 from a consortium of private investors and Enterprise Ireland.

The Tech Day start-up pitching competition was held at the 21st International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG) World Congress in San Francisco.

The World Congress was billed as the as the “largest world conference on ageing”. Over 6,000 experts in the field of ageing gathered together to share their knowledge on improving the health, welfare, and rights of a growing proportion of the world’s population.

By: Jamie Deasy, digital journalist, UCD University Relations

Trinity College Dublin Scientists Make Significant Breakthrough For Allergic Conditions

Researchers at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland have made a significant breakthrough in the treatment of allergic conditions, such as asthma and eczema. The team, led by Science Foundation Ireland Stokes Professor of Translational Immunology, Padraic Fallon, of the School of Medicine in the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute, demonstrated that a molecule, referred to as PD-L1, functions as a trigger to the inflammation characteristic of an allergic reaction in mice.

An allergic reaction occurs when the body’s immune system mistakes something (e.g., pollen and dust mites) for a pathogen and responds by taking measures to rid the body of that perceived threat. Treatment of allergies usually involves antihistamines, decongestants, and/or corticosteroids.

All of these medications operate by reducing allergic inflammation. Antihistamines, such as Benadryl or Claritin, block the action of the compound histamine. Histamine causes the inflammation symptoms characteristic of an allergic reaction, and is deployed by the immune system in an attempt to expel something from the body through the excess production of mucus. Decongestants, such as Sudafed and Afrin, and corticosteroids, such as Flonase and Nasacort, both function by reducing the inflammation that results from an allergic reaction.

While these three types of medication are effective at what they do, an allergic reaction is caused by a chain biochemical reaction within the body, and these drugs only stop said reaction at the end, or the symptomatic stage.

Fallon predicts that his team’s identification of the beginning of this chain reaction will be utilized by drug manufacturers to create medications that can halt allergic reactions at their origination, rather than at their conclusion. “This new discovery identifies a checkpoint that regulate the processes that start allergies at the early stages whereby cells talk to each other to instruct the immune system,” Fallon told The University Network (TUN).

Hence, blocking this checkpoint would stop the progression from the earliest cellular events that initiate allergies.

When asked what was next for this research, Fallon replied: “The next step is to address the clinical relevance of this discovery. Key questions to consider are, ‘is the same checkpoint happening in humans with allergies, can we block this response to prevent or delay the development of allergies in man?’”

If this biochemical checkpoint does in fact occur in humans as it does in mice, and a compound can be developed that blocks action at said checkpoint, then this research will revolutionize the way we think of allergies and how we treat them.

The full paper is published in The Journal of Experimental Medicine.

Dr. Christian Schwartz, Adnan R. Khan, Achilleas Floudas, Sean P. Saunders, Emily Hams, Hans-Reimer Rodewald, and Andrew N.J. McKenzie contributed to this research.