Renewable Energy Project Launched by NUI Galway

Project has been launched by NUI Galway

A project, aimed at developing the use of hydrogen as a renewable energy source, has been launched by NUI Galway.

The €3.5 million three-year project aims to promote and support the shift towards a low-carbon economy by showing how it is feasible to power local transport networks using the hydrogen.

In particular the team wants to demonstrate the viability of producing, distributing and using the gas generated by renewable energy and sea water in Atlantic areas.

Island areas are seen as an appropriate test bed because of the high cost of providing electricity and other fuel to them and the strong demand for such fuels in local transport.

Co-financed by the 2014-2020 INTERREG Atlantic Area programme, SEAFUEL involves a group of international partners who have extensive experience in wind and solar energy production.

“SEAFUEL proposes a sustainable way to power local transportation in isolated regions using renewable resources such as sun, wind and seawater, considering the inherent intermittency of such solar and wind energy,” said Dr Pau Farràs from the School of Chemistry at NUI Galway.

Scientists from NUI Galway and UCD Make Breakthrough in Breast Cancer Treatment

By Cillian O’Brien

Irish scientists have discovered a new treatment method to tackle breast cancer that has spread to other organs.

Teams from the Lambe Institute at NUI Galway and UCD have identified an approach that uses stem cells to treat the disease.

They have engineered a part of these cells to carry a tumour blocking message which was shown to reduce cancer growth in models of the illness.

The exciting breakthrough suggests the microscopic messengers may home in on sites of the disease and could be a safe and effective new way to treat breast cancer when it has spread.

Dr Róisín Dwyer from NUI Galway said: “When cancer has spread it is difficult to deliver therapy to many sites of disease while protecting healthy tissue.

“We engineered mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) to express high levels of a tumour suppressing micro RNA and we used the MSCs as vehicles to deliver it to the tumour site.

“The MSCs were found to release the micro RNA in tiny vesicles.

“We then isolated the vesicles to determine if they could be used to treat the cancer, without the cells.

“This could also reduce potential side effects.”

Researchers spent the last five years examining how the cells could be used to deliver treatments to specific locations.

They found that tiny vesicles, secreted by the cells, send information around the body and home in on the sites of tumours and raises the potential that they could be used to bring drugs directly to cancer sites.

There have been big advances in detection and treatment of breast cancer, but patients where the disease has spread to other organs still have a poor outcome.

The research was mostly funded by the Irish Cancer Society’s Breast-Predict centre.

The results were published in the cancer journal Oncogene. To read the full study visit: http://rdcu.be/Fu56.

Actor Cillian Murphy Attends Youth Empathy Day at NUI Galway

Galway Bay fm newsroom – Actor Cillian Murphy has been attending Youth Empathy Day at NUI Galway, hosted by the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre.

The youth-led day brought together 200 Transition Year students from six secondary schools in Galway, Dublin and Tipperary, all of whom are taking part in a new pilot education programme called Activating Social Empathy.

It supports adolescents to learn empathy in schools.

Actor and Patron of the Centre, Cillian Murphy spoke to the students about the importance of empathy in his work as an actor.

A series of workshops on literature, drama, music, yoga, mindfulness and social media will explore how these areas can be used to teach and promote empathy.

Two of the Centre’s Youth Researchers will host a peer-led session on their own experience of developing empathy.

The day will close with a group brainstorm on developing an Empathy Charter that can be carried into schools, setting out how empathy can be fostered within school communities.

NUI Galway Medical Students Celebrate Thirteen Years of Teddy Bear Hospital

The 13th annual Teddy Bear Hospital at NUI Galway will take place Thursday and Friday, 18 and 19 January. The event will see over 1,300 sick teddy bears admitted to the hospital, accompanied by their minders, 1,300 primary school children.

The event is organised by the Sláinte Society, the NUI Galway branch of the International Federation of Medical Students Associations, and up to 200 medical and science students will diagnose and treat the teddy bears. In the process, they hope to help children, ranging in age from 3-8 years, feel more comfortable around doctors and hospitals.

Over the years, children have come along with teddy bears suffering from an imaginative range of sore ears, sick tummies and all kinds of other weird and wonderful ailments.

Sally Cahill, a third year medical student at NUI Galway and co-auditor of Sláinte Society, said: “This year we are celebrating the 13th annual Teddy Bear Hospital. Over the past couple of years, demand from schools to attend the event has increased and as a result the event has become ever bigger in an attempt to cure all of the sick teddies of Galway. We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of our first ‘patients’ on Thursday, 18 January and hope to create a relaxed and enjoyable ‘hospital’ environment for the children.”

This year, 25 local primary schools are participating in the event, equating to over 1,300 children. On arrival at the Teddy Bear Hospital on campus, the children will go to the ‘waiting room’, which contains jugglers and face painters. Then the children and their teddy bears are seen by a team of Teddy Doctors and Teddy Nurses, who will examine them. The students will have specially designed X-ray and MRI machines on hand, should the teddy bears need them.

Recuperating teddy bears can avail of medical supplies from the Teddy Bear Pharmacy, stocked with healthy fruit from Burkes Fruit and Veg, along with medical supplies sponsored by Matt O’Flaherty Chemist.

After all this excitement the children can enjoy a bouncy castle and entertainment from the juggling society in the college. Further sponsorship for the event came from Bank of Ireland, Dunnes Stores, NUI Galway Socs Box and Medical Protection Society.

Ríona Hughes, NUI Galway’s Societies Officer, said: “The Teddy Bear hospital is a magical opportunity for the society to invite the children and their teddies to campus and provide a valuable learning experience for all. It is one of the NUI Galway societies’ most colourful and endearing community outreach programme and we are thrilled with its success.

Congratulations to Sláinte Society who engage such a large number of our students in this event for such a positive purpose and we look forward to a rewarding few days for all involved.”

NUI Galway Lecturer Wins ‘Researcher of the Year’ Award

NUI Galway lecturer wins ‘Researcher of the Year’ award
Dr Martin O’Halloran was announced as the winner for his outstanding research in medical electronics.

A researcher from NUI Galway has won the inaugural ‘Researcher of the Year’ award presented by the Irish Research Council.

Dr Martin O’Halloran was announced as the winner for his outstanding research in medical electronics.

Dr O’Halloran is a Techrete Senior Lecturer in Medical Electronics at NUI Galway’s College of Engineering and Informatics and College of Medicine, and a Founder-Director of the Lambe Translational Medical Device Lab at Galway University Hospital.

The awards were presented as the Council marks 15 years of the Irish Research Council.

Commenting on being presented with the award, Dr Martin O’Halloran said: “This award is a reflection of the quality and ambition of the broader research team in the Translational Medical Device Lab at NUI Galway, and validates the close collaboration between the Colleges of Engineering and Informatics, and Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences.

“By embedding our engineering lab within the hospital, we get a greater understanding of the real clinical need, and can shorten the time required to translate technology out of the lab and into the patient clinic.”

The Lambe Translational Medical Device Lab now hosts 24 world class researchers from Europe, the US and Asia, including engineers, physicists, veterinary surgeons and doctors.

The team are developing medical devices to address problems ranging from new ways to reliably detect fetal distress during delivery, to novel treatments for lung cancer.

 

Chair of the Irish Research Council, Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, congratulated Dr Martin O Halloran

“We received many nominations of current and previously Council-funded researchers.

“Dr O’Halloran and Dr Rivetti were selected for their outstanding track records to date and I would like to wish them all the very best in their future research careers,” he said.

Author: M.Seosamh O Maoileoin

NUI Galway Study Finds the Magnitude of Past Climate Change Events May have been Underestimated

A modified figure showing the underestimation of reconstructed temperatures for the last interglacial (warm) period. Photo: NUI Galway
A modified figure showing the underestimation of reconstructed temperatures for the last interglacial (warm) period. Photo: NUI Galway

A new study led by Dr Audrey Morley at NUI Galway, has found that the magnitude of past abrupt climate change events may have underestimated. If so, the impact of current climate change may be larger than expected. The study was published today (4 December 2017) in the international journal Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems.

Lead author of the study, Dr Audrey Morley from the School of Geography and Archaeology at NUI Galway, said: “Abrupt climate events that occurred during the last interglacial (warm) period, ca. 125,000 years ago, have been underestimated by up to 4°Celsius. This is important because our current understanding of climate change and our predictions of future climate both rely on past examples from Earth’s climate history. Robust and quantitative methods to deduce the magnitude of abrupt climate events from the geologic record are therefore essential.”

In this new study, Dr Morley collaborated with researchers from the University of California-Santa Cruz, Rutgers University New Jersey and the University of Bergen, and studied an established geochemical tool for investigating sea surface temperatures in the past. In the modern ocean, observations have shown that marine plankton (foraminifera) will use more magnesium relative to calcium, which are elements freely available in sea water, when they form their shell in warmer waters. This allows scientists to apply this modern relationship between magnesium, calcium, and temperature to the past by measuring magnesium-to-calcium ratios (Mg/Ca) in fossilised marine plankton that are continually deposited in seafloor sediments. However, there are limitations with the Mg/Ca temperature relationship, because the scientists understanding of other processes that may influence the amount of magnesium in the shell is incomplete.

For example, higher carbon dioxide levels in seawater results in lower pH (potential of hydrogen) and lower carbonate ion concentrations. Carbonate ion is the carbon species used by foraminifera to form their calcium carbonate tests. As carbonate ion becomes less available in surrounding seawater the individual organism needs to exert more energy for calcification. Through this process more magnesium becomes incidentally incorporated than what would be predicted by temperature only. Since colder surface waters absorb more carbon dioxide than warmer waters, this leads to generally low carbonate ion concentrations in cold surface waters. Therefore, when magnesium-to-calcium values are measured on fossilised marine plankton that lived in surface waters with low carbonate ion concentrations, this relationship leads to an underestimation of reconstructed temperatures.

This study presents an innovative mathematical correction scheme that enables the carbonate ion concentration effect to be isolated from the temperature signal recorded in marine plankton (from magnesium-to-calcium ratios) via subtraction. Specifically, Dr Morley and her colleagues were able to quantify the control of low carbonate ion concentrations values on magnesium-to-calcium ratios for a specific marine plankton species (Neogloboquadrina Incompta) living in the subpolar North Atlantic Ocean, and thereby isolate the true magnesium-to-calcium temperature relationship.

Dr Morley added: “Applying the proposed correction scheme to past climate records reveals that we may have underestimated abrupt climate events by up to 4°Celsius during past interglacial (warm) periods. This is particularly important for climate records from the subpolar/polar North Atlantic region that may have experienced abrupt changes in carbonate ion concentrations linked with abrupt climate events. Correcting for low carbonate ion concentration values improves the fidelity of temperature reconstructions and allows a reassessment of the magnitude of climate events occurring during warm climates.”

Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway

Scientists at NUI Galway Make Breakthrough for Parkinson’s Disease

The degeneration and death of brain cells that regulate movement is what affects the ability of a person with Parkinson’s to control movement.

NEUROSCIENTISTS AT NUI Galway have made a breakthrough in regenerative medicine approaches to Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s is a condition that primarily affects a person’s ability to control movement leading to a progressive deterioration in ability.

The symptoms of the condition are caused by the degeneration and death of brain cells that regulate movement.

Brain repair for Parkinson’s involves replacing the dead cells by transplanting healthy brain cells back into the brain, but the widespread roll-out of this therapy has been hindered by the poor survival of the implanted cells.

The research, which was published in the Nature journal, Scientific Reports this week, found that the survival of the transplanted cells is dramatically improved if they are implanted within a supportive matrix made from the natural material collagen.

It was carried out by a team at the Galway Neuroscience Centre and CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices, based at NUI Galway.

Lead author of the research paper, Dr Eilis Dowd said:

The collagen provides the cells with a nurturing, supportive environment in the brain and helps them to survive the aversive transplant process.

The work will be presented at the upcoming Network for European CNS Transplantation and Restoration (NECTAR) conference which is being hosted by Dr Dowd in Dublin from the 6–8 December.

The event will feature leading scientists from the US, Canada, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK, who will present their latest research on brain repair for Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s.

By Cliodhna Russell

NUI Galway to Develop Novel Imaging Platform for Regenerative Medicine

The European Commission has awarded a €6 million project grant to a consortium led by Professor Martin Leahy of the Tissue Optics and Microcirculation Imaging (TOMI) group at NUI Galway to develop a novel imaging platform for regenerative medicine. This new project, ‘STARSTEM’ will allow researchers and eventually, hospital doctors, to detect and measure the healing effects of novel stem cell therapies, even where they occur under the skin.

Regenerative medicine and stem cell therapies provide unique opportunities for treating a wide range of human diseases. While clinical trials have shown very promising results, scientists do not yet fully understand how stem cells trigger healing, or indeed where the cells go after they are administered to the patient. This uncertainty makes it difficult for regulators to approve new stem cell therapies, and for doctors to prescribe them.

The new STARSTEM project will address both of these challenges. Therapeutic stem cells will be ‘tagged’ with tiny gold star-shaped nanoparticles (‘nanostars’) invented at NUI Galway, which will make them much easier to detect with an exciting new imaging technology, optoacoustic imaging (OAI). This will enable researchers to track the location of very small amounts of stem cells, after they are administered. The effects of the stem cell therapy will also be measurable using OAI, which can detect healing as it happens, by measuring oxygen levels in the blood, formation of new blood vessels, and other signs of healing. These new insights will greatly help to take regenerative medicine into the clinic, a key aim of the Regenerative Medicine Institute (REMEDI) at NUI Galway.

While STARSTEM is focused on developing new imaging technologies, it opens the door to new clinical research in regenerative medicine, with new tools and capabilities, and so helps to unlock the promise of regenerative medicine. Initially using osteoarthritis as its model disease target, STARSTEM’s platform has the potential to advance new treatments for cancers, neurodegenerative diseases and a host of other illnesses.

Professor Martin Leahy, Coordinator of STARSTEM and the Director of TOMI at NUI Galway, said: “This is an exciting opportunity to use fundamental advances in the physics of imaging to validate stem cell treatments for arthritis. Once demonstrated in this application the STARSTEM technology can be used to enable a wide range of stem cell therapies.”

Professor Frank Barry, Scientific Director of REMEDI at NUI Galway, said: “It is critically important that we understand dynamics and distribution of stem cells so that we can optimise treatments for patients. This project will allow us to make great strides in this regard.”

STARSTEM brings together leaders in the nano-materials, regenerative medicine, and bio-imaging fields from across Europe. The team includes; NUI Galway (Project Co-ordinator); Technical University of Munich; University of Genoa; University of Cambridge; The Institute of Photonic Sciences, Barcelona; iThera Medical GmbH; Biorigen Srl; and Pintail Ltd, Ireland.

STARSTEM has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

Ronan Leonard

NUI Galway Lead International Research Project to Develop Next Generation Antimicrobials to Prevent Bacterial Infections

E. coli bacterium. Photo: NUI Galway
E. coli bacterium. Photo: NUI Galway

 

NUI Galway has embarked on a new European project, PATHSENSE (Pathogen Sensing) Training Network, which has been funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation MSCA programme. The overall goal of the project is to identify vulnerabilities in pathogenic bacteria (bacteria that can cause infection) that can be targeted with next generation antimicrobial treatments to inhibit the growth of bacteria.

The PATHSENSE European Training Network, which secured €3.4 million to undertake this work, will investigate the mechanisms that bacterial pathogens use to sense their environment. The objective is to focus on understanding a highly sophisticated but poorly understood sensory organelle in bacteria called the ‘stressosome’, which in some respects is like a miniature brain for processing sensory inputs. The stressosome allows bacteria to detect and respond to the conditions they encounter in their environment, which helps them to survive when conditions become unfavourable. The project will explore the relationships between structure and function that exist in this structure with the long-term aim of blocking its function.

The research programme will be led and coordinated by Dr Conor O’Byrne, Lecturer in Microbiology in the School of Natural Sciences at NUI Galway, and will collaborate with eight universities and four companies, located in seven different countries around Europe. Dr O’ Byrne recently received an Ireland’s Champions of EU award from Enterprise Ireland in the category ‘Recognising the career development of our next generation researchers’, for his leadership of the PATHSENSE project.

Dr Conor O’Byrne explains: “Rapid and sensitive systems to sense and respond to environmental changes are a cornerstone of a bacterium’s survival apparatus, and if we understood how these systems worked then we could design drugs to block them and this should help to kill the bacteria. Imagine if you deprived someone of their sense of hearing, smell and vision and then placed them into a crowded city, they would find it pretty difficult to survive. This is what we aim to do with these bacterial pathogens, with the goal of reducing their chance of survival and ultimately preventing infections in humans.”

The team participating in the PATHSENSE Network met recently in Amsterdam and plan to recruit 13 researchers who will each embark on a PhD degree. Researchers will be trained in state-of-the-art methodologies, including structural biology, proteomics and protein biochemistry, molecular biology, bacterial genetics, food microbiology, mathematical modelling, cell biology, microscopy and comparative genomics.

A major long-term objective of this Network will be to develop new antimicrobial treatments that target the sensory apparatus of bacteria, preventing them from protecting themselves and thereby reducing their survival. These antimicrobials will have applications in the food and public health sectors.

The PATHSENSE project team led by NUI Galway will include multinational giant Nestle, and leading European Universities (University of Cambridge, University of Dundee and University of Newcastle in the UK, University of Regensburg and University of Greifswald in Germany, University of Umea in Sweden, University of Groningen in The Netherlands and the National Centre for Biotechnology in Madrid). Partner companies include NATAC Biotech Spain, Nizo Food Research, The Netherlands, Aquila Biosciences, Galway, Ireland, and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 721456.

Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway

New NUI Galway Research Shows Early Promise in Treating Huntington’s Disease

Affected nerve cells, concept for neurological diseases and tumours. Photo: iStock
Affected nerve cells, concept for neurological diseases and tumours. Photo: iStock

Newly-published research from NUI Galway shows encouraging early signs for a potential treatment for Huntington’s disease.

Huntington’s disease is an inherited neurodegenerative disease that causes serious cognitive and movement defects. Sometimes called Huntington’s chorea, it is debilitating, untreatable and relentlessly fatal. Huntington’s disease is particularly cruel because children are sometimes affected more severely than their parents.

Professor Robert Lahue and his team at the Centre for Chromosome Biology and the Galway Neuroscience Centre at NUI Galway, collaborated with scientists at the University of Barcelona. The researchers targeted an enzyme called histone deacetylase 3 (HDAC3), which is thought to alter important biochemical mechanisms in the brain of Huntington’s disease patients and thereby accelerate disease progression.

The new study published in the journal Scientific Reports shows that blocking HDAC3 with an experimental compound in a pre-clinical model of Huntington’s disease slows cognitive decline and delays the onset of molecular signs of neurodegeneration.

NUI Galway’s Professor Lahue said: “While these results are preliminary, the data shows that the onset of Huntington’s disease is delayed when HDAC3 is blocked in this pre-clinical setting. This is an encouraging first step because currently there are no effective treatments that target the root cause of the disease.”

Professor Lahue also noted the key role of the Spanish collaborators and co-authors, Dr Silvia Ginés and Nuria Suelves from the University of Barcelona: “Silvia and Nuria are Huntington’s disease experts, and the collaborative nature of this joint project allowed the research to progress into new areas.”

Professor Lahue and Dr Ginés have applied for additional funding to develop the treatment further and to assess additional safety aspects.

Science Foundation Ireland and the European Huntington’s Disease Network supported the research in Ireland.

To read the full study in Scientific Reports visit: www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-05125-

NUI Galway Huntington’s disease video for social media: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sn2Y38ydxy8&feature=youtu.be