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

Three-minute presentation on more accessible and affordable cancer screening wins first prize at NUIG’s Threesis

Bárbara Oliveira took first prize at NUI Galway’s third annual Threesis Competition which took place last week. The winner was judged on how well they conveyed and communicated their research to a general audience. A PhD student at NUI Galway, Bárbara’s presentation was on using microwave breast imaging to enable more accessible and affordable cancer screening.\\rbara Oliveira won first prize at NUI Galway’s third annual Threesis Competition which took place last week. The winner was judged on how well they conveyed and communicated their research to a general audience. A PhD student at NUI Galway, Bárbara’s presentation was on using microwave breast imaging to enable more accessible and affordable cancer screening.

The competition consisted of quick-fire presentations, with NUI Galway researchers presenting three slides, in three minutes, to three judges. The competitors had come through a series of heats already held on campus, to take on the final challenge at a public event in An Taibhdhearc.

Earlier in the month, Bárbara came second in a similar national competition, Theesis-in-3, where she also won the audience vote award.

Second and third prize on the night in An Taibhdhearc went to Dilip Thomas and Grace O’Malley. Dilip works on regenerating blood vessels in vascular diseases, whilst Grace researches new immune based drugs to fight tumours.

Threesis focused on taking researchers out of their comfort zones to present their research to a general audience using only three slides over three minutes to three judges. The spotlight was on impact – how research at NUI Galway impacts upon our daily lives, those of our family and our broader community.

Speaking at the event, Dr Ann Ryan, Head of Research Development at NUI Galway, congratulated all the researchers who participated in the competition: “This evening’s presentations showed not only the breadth and quality of the research being undertaken across NUI Galway, but also its relevance and impact on all of our daily lives; this is truly impressive.”

Research areas represented included science, engineering, information technology, business and medicine, with topics ranging from new methods for repairing damaged tissue, to data visualization and crisis data management, making Irish cattle more efficient, new drugs for diabetes, and centering the person at the core of dementia care.

The three judges were: Professor Daniel Carey, Director of the Moore Institute, NUI Galway; Bernard Kirk, Director of Galway Education Centre; and Lorna Farren, Director of Communications and Marketing, NUI Galway. Professor Andy Shearer, Head of the School of Physics, NUI Galway, was Master of Ceremonies for the event.

Other finalists at the event were: Heike Vornhage (Insight); Rachel Ronan (CÚRAM and Anatomy); Ihab Salawdeh (Insight); Declan O’Loughlin (Engineering); Gillian Murphy (CÚRAM); Niamh Hennelly (Economics); Aniket Kshirsagar (CÚRAM); Marc Higgins (Biochemistry and Teagasc); Luís Martins (CÚRAM) and Enrico Bagnoli (CÚRAM).

NUIG-based CÚRAM teams with Neograft to develop new method to manufacture of coronary bypass device

Dr Eoin O’Cearbhaill, CÚRAM Investigator based at the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at University College Dublin, whose Medical Devices Design Group will work with the company
Dr Eoin O’Cearbhaill, CÚRAM Investigator based at the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at University College Dublin, whose Medical Devices Design Group will work with the company

Neograft, a Boston based medical technology company has teamed up with CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Centre for Research in Medical Devices, to develop a novel manufacturing method for coronary bypass devices. Based at NUI Galway, CÚRAM has over 250 researchers engaged in current projects, both in collaboration with industry and on blue-sky research.

Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) is a type of surgery that improves blood flow to the heart and is used to treat people who have severe coronary heart disease (CHD). This type of surgery, which typically uses veins to create bypass grafts for the heart, is currently the best option for most patients with CHD. Outcomes can however be compromised by the mechanical and biological limitations of veins typically used to create the bypass grafts.

Dr Eoin O’Cearbhaill, CÚRAM Investigator based at the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at University College Dublin, whose Medical Devices Design Group will work with the company, explains that despite their widespread use, vein grafts continue to fail at high rates. “Many of these grafts can become obstructed in the first year and the failure rate can be up to 50% within five to ten years,” he says.

Neograft Technologies, Inc. has developed a product called Angioshield™, which offers a new option for treatment of coronary artery disease and promises to improve vein performance and longevity in CABG outcomes.

“Our Angioshield technology creates a support layer around the vein using a proprietary polymer network to improve both the strength and uniformity of the vein graft,” explains Jon McGrath, from Neograft’s CEO. “The device supports the vein without deforming its natural shape and allows nutrients and new cells to migrate into and through the support layer. Over time, new, stronger tissue develops around and within the scaffold, while the polymer that it’s made from weakens, allowing the new tissue to be exposed to its normal environment, which favours the development of stronger, more functional tissues.”

Dr O’Cearbhaill’s research team will work with Neograft Technologies, Inc. and seek to use advanced manufacturing methods to develop a next-generation product.

CÚRAM’s goal is to develop affordable solutions for patients suffering from chronic illnesses like CHD,” says NUI Galway’s Professor Abhay Pandit, Scientific Director of CÚRAM. “This project is another example of how we are partnering with industry to do this, using world class research expertise to allow our industry partners to expand and develop their product ranges to provide the ultimate benefit to the patient” he says.

CÚRAM brings together strands of biomedical science which have come of age over the last decade including glycoscience, biomaterials science, regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, drug delivery and medical device design.

CÚRAM has six academic partners including UCD, Trinity College Dublin, University of Limerick, University College Cork, The Royal College of Surgeons Ireland and NUI Galway.

World-Renowned Surgeon to Deliver Sir Peter Freyer Memorial Lecture at NUI Galway

NUI Galway will host Ireland’s largest surgical conference, the 39th Sir Peter Freyer Memorial Lecture and Surgical Symposium, on 5-6 September 2014. Internationally renowned surgeon, Dr John Birkmeyer will deliver the Memorial Lecture entitled ‘Strategies for Improving the Quality of Surgical Care’.

John Birkmeyer, MD is the George D. Zuidema Professor of Surgery and Director of the Centre for Healthcare Outcomes & Policy at the University of Michigan. He is a graduate of Harvard Medical School. His research career has focused on performance measurement, understanding variation in hospital outcomes and cost-efficiency, and strategies for improvement. Formerly a series editor of the Dartmouth Atlas of Healthcare, Dr. Birkmeyer has leading roles in several regional collaborative improvement programs involving over 50 hospitals in Michigan, with support from Blue Cross Blue Shield Michigan. He serves on the blue ribbon expert panel on hospital safety ratings for the Leapfrog Group and as Chief Scientific Officer for ArborMetrix, Inc. Dr. Birkmeyer was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 2006.

Professor of Surgery at NUI Galway, Michael Kerin, who is hosting the event along with his colleague Professor Oliver McAnena, says: “We are delighted to welcome Dr Birkmeyer to our University. Dr Birkmeyer is focused on improving the quality of the health care system which will serve the lives of the people and communities for generations to come.”

On the second day of the Surgical Symposium, Mr James Sheehan, CEO, Galway Clinic, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, Co-Founder of Blackrock Clinic, Galway Clinic and the Hermitage Clinic will deliver the State of the Art Lecture entitled ‘Reflections on the Past and a Vision for the Future’ on Saturday, 6th September at 12.45 p.m. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland and he holds an M.Sc in Bioengineering and a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Surrey. He is a Fellow of the Institution of Engineers of Ireland and the Irish Academy of Engineering. He specialised in the design of artificial hip and knee prostheses. Since co-founding the Blackrock Clinic in the 1980s, his name has become synonymous with healthcare provision, as well as innovations.

For further information on event, please contact 091 524390 or www.freyer.ie