RCSI Continues to Monitor the Spread of COVID-19

At present, with no reported cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in Ireland, RCSI will continue to carry out its normal day-to-day functions and all planned events, but the situation will be monitored closely.

Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team is meeting weekly to continue its review of the country’s ongoing preparedness in line with advice from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre in Ireland, the WHO and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

Within RCSI, a working group is meeting once a week, and more often when required, to update our plans based on any changes to the public advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team, the WHO and ECDC. The group is being advised by RCSI Professors Sam McConkey and Hilary Humphreys and Dr Fidelma Fitzpatrick.

This is a fast-moving situation and staff and students will be updated by email as the situation evolves and in response to the guidance being issued by the relevant authorities.

Advice and guidance
The most up-to-date source of guidance is the Opens in new windowHealth Protection Surveillance Centre, which has developed a helpful FAQ. In addition to general information, it also includes information on prevention, signs/symptoms/travel advice and the global situation.


Travel guidance
In response to Irish and international public health guidance and official travel advisories, RCSI Travel is restricting travel to and from China.

In respect of personal travel, RCSI is strongly advising staff and students not to travel to China or travel from China to Ireland. If you any queries, please contact the Health and Safety Office.

If you have returned to Ireland from an affected area in the last 14 days, you are asked to stay at home for 14 days and notify RCSI’s Health and Safety Office and your line manager. Please also ring your local Opens in new windowDepartment of Public Health and they will advise you of the next steps over the phone. Do not present at your GP surgery or an ED.

Staff must notify the RCSI Health and Safety Office if visitors from an affected area are due to visit RCSI before any travel arrangements are made.

Symptoms and prevention
Common signs of infection include:

  • Respiratory symptoms (cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties
  • Fever
  • In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death

Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include:

  • Regular hand washing
  • Covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing as part of respiratory etiquette
  • Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as cough or sneezing

If you are unwell on return from travel to an affected area, stay at home and call your local Opens in new windowDepartment of Public Health. Do not present at an Emergency department or at your GP practice. There is further information available on the Opens in new windowHPSC website.

This is a potentially worrying time for staff and students, and parents, most particularly for those with family and friends in the affected regions. It is possible that members of the RCSI community may experience discrimination or alienation over the coming period. Respect is a core value of RCSI and it is important that we show our support to any colleague or student who may be affected.

Researchers develop Potential New Treatment Approach for Breast Cancer


Irish cancer researchers have developed a potential new treatment approach for a form of breast cancer, which can be difficult to treat.

The Opens in new windowBREAST-PREDICT researchers at RCSI focused on a form of cancer that affects around one in eight breast cancer patients.

The type of cancer targeted – invasive lobular breast cancer – has been understudied to date, leaving patients without tailored treatment options. The discovery in the paper is now paving the way for more personalised treatment of this form of cancer.

Dr Louise Walsh, joint author of the paper with Dr Kathryn Haley, was supervised by Professor Darran O’Connor and Dr Tríona Ní Chonghaile in RCSI. Opens in new windowIrish Cancer Society and Opens in new windowBreast Cancer Now funded the paper, which is published in Opens in new windowClinical Cancer Research.

Speaking on the discovery, Dr Walsh said: “To know the long hours I spent in the lab have identified novel research findings that will hopefully ensure a better treatment path for patients with this cancer is incredible.

“I’m proud to have played a role in discovering a potential way to target this cancer and improve outcomes for patients in the future. No one is unaffected by cancer in Ireland, but research is the tool we have to ensure that more people can overcome a cancer diagnosis in their life.”

This potential new treatment, a combination approach that comprises two different drugs, blocks molecules in breast cancer cells that control cell growth and survival. The researchers suggest that this treatment approach may be useful for patients who no longer respond to standard therapies. The team are now in the final stages of testing this treatment in the laboratory, supported by additional funding from the Opens in new windowSusan G. Komen’s Foundation, before they hope to advance to clinical trial stage.

Invasive lobular breast cancer accounts for roughly one in eight newly diagnosed breast cancer cases. When caught early, treatments with surgery, radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy can be effective, but this type of breast cancer can be more difficult to detect at these early stages. As the cancer advances, it can spread to other organs and become resistant to chemotherapy and hormone therapy.

The new findings were unveiled today as the Irish Cancer Society urges the public to get involved in Opens in new windowCups Against Breast Cancer, a fundraising campaign which aims to raise money for breast cancer research and support services for people affected by breast cancer.

Head of Research at the Irish Cancer Society, Dr Robert O’Connor, said: “New treatment options for this cancer subtype are urgently needed, so this discovery is hugely important for patients who might benefit from a tailored approach to their treatment.

“This research is an example of the vital work of BREAST-PREDICT, made possible by the country’s support of fundraising campaigns like Cups Against Breast Cancer. This October, members of the public can help fund more lifesaving cancer research and free services for people affected by breast cancer by hosting a coffee morning on 11 October.”

Breast Milk Could Help Prevent Heart Disease Caused by Premature Birth

Early use of breast milk could play a vital role in preventing heart disease in prematurely born infants, according to a paper led by researchers at RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) and the Rotunda Hospital.

The review article, published in the journal Opens in new windowPediatric Research, was written in collaboration with researchers from Harvard Medical School, University of Oxford and University of Toronto.

One of the long-term health complications that young adults born prematurely may experience is unique heart characteristics. These can include smaller heart chambers, relatively higher blood pressure and a disproportionate increase in muscle mass in the heart.

One study cited in the article looked at 30 preterm-born adults who were assigned to receive exclusive human milk and 16 preterm-born adults who were assigned to receive an exclusive formula-based diet during their hospital stay at birth. They then underwent detailed cardiovascular assessment between 23 and 28 years of age, including an MRI of their hearts. As expected, all of the hearts of those born prematurely had smaller chambers than the hearts in people who were not born prematurely.

However, the study showed that the smaller heart chambers were less profound for the exclusively human milk-fed group in comparison to those who were exclusively formula fed, suggesting a potentially protective effect of human milk for heart structure.

The researchers then identified potential reasons for why breast milk results in a lower risk of heart disease. Breast milk could help prevent heart disease by better regulating hormones and growth factors, strengthening the infant’s immune system, reducing inflammation and possibly improving the metabolism of the child.

Identifying the key components within breast milk that result in improved heart health could pave the way for a more targeted approach to improve long-term cardiovascular well being for those born prematurely.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that premature birth results in long-term adverse cardiovascular effects with important clinical consequences,” said Professor Afif EL-Khuffash, Honorary Clinical Professor of Paediatrics at RCSI and Consultant Neonatologist at The Rotunda Hospital, Dublin. “There is a distinct lack of preventative and therapeutic interventions available to alleviate those effects.”

He continued: “The current evidence comes from observational studies and highlights the strong link between early breast milk administrations and improvement in long-term heart health, but it lacks concrete mechanistic explanations. More studies on the composition of breast milk could make clear exactly what causes these health benefits, which could in turn lead to better treatment options.”

The collaborative research group is continuing to study the effects of human milk exposure on heart function in very premature infants by using novel scans to measure heart function. They hope to demonstrate that early human milk exposure in premature infants can lead to significant improvements in heart function over the first two years of age.

Half of Adults Seek Health Advice Online

Half of Irish adults seek health information or advice online, while one in five has never spoken to a healthcare professional about their health concerns, a new survey has found.

According to the findings, people under the age of 25 are the age group least likely to speak to a healthcare professional about their health concerns.

The survey of 1,000 adults was carried out last month on behalf of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), to coincide with the launch of a series of public lectures it plans to give about common illnesses and health topics.

The RCSI MyHealth lecture series will run from this coming September to May 2020 and will look at topics such as cannabis, vaccinations and arthritis.

“As educators and researchers, it is our responsibility to use our expertise, knowledge and discoveries to foster improvements in health and education in our communities, our societies and around the world.

“The RCSI MyHealth lecture series aims to do just that – to de-mystify the common health concerns affecting the Irish public, drawing expertise and insight from our team of researchers and leading international health experts at the cutting edge of medical and healthcare developments,” explained Prof Hannah McGee of the RCSI.

The survey carried out on behalf of the RCSI found that cancer is women’s main health concern, followed by mental health, heart disease and stress. In those under the age of 35, almost half included stress in their top three health concerns.

Meanwhile mental health is parents’ main health concern for their children, followed by vaccinations, drugs and alcohol, and weight/obesity.

When it comes to the internet, 50% of people seek health information or advice online, yet 69% do not consider websites to be a trusted source of information.

The first talk in the RCSI MyHealth lecture series is on cannabis and youth health and it will take place at the RCSI, 26 York Street, Dublin 2, at 6.30pm on September 18.

16-Year-Old M’sian is the Youngest Student to Enroll Into Ireland’s Royal College Of Surgeons

16-Year-Old M’sian Is The Youngest Student To Enroll Into Ireland’s Royal College Of Surgeons
He’s probably the Malaysian version of Sheldon from ‘Big Bang Theory’.


When we were 16, if was a pretty confusing time for us: our teenage angst and hormones were actively raging, we felt like the world was against us, we didn’t have a clue what’s going on and it was only a matter of time until we sit for our Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM).

But for one 16-year-old Malaysian, it seems that he’s got his life sorted out and on top of that, is moving towards landing the career of his dreams.

Meet Emir Haady Imran Zulkharnain, who will be the youngest student at the prestigious Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) in Dublin when he enrolls in September this year.

The Sun Daily reported that the teenager completed his UK International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) examination at STARS International Academy at the tender age of 14.

He achieved 6A+ in International Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Bahasa Melayu and Mathematics; an A1 in Additional Mathematics; and a B1 for English.

What’s even more baffling is the fact that Emir had only 10 months to study for the exam.

Emir later on pursued his A levels – at the age of 15, mind you – and he managed to obtain an A+ for Physics and 2As for Chemistry and Math.

“I can’t see myself doing life any other way than by being a doctor,” Emir told The Sun in an interview.

“I initially wanted to become an astronaut, but as I grew older, at 11, I started to like medicine a lot.”

Emir's dream job is to be a heart surgeon.
Emir’s dream job is to be a heart surgeon.

Emir, who is the youngest of four children, has set his eyes on becoming a heart surgeon when he literally grows up.

“The heart just fascinates me – how it works – and I just want to do what I love which is to become a heart surgeon,” he said.

It’s also interesting to note that both of Emir’s parents are doctors.

Well, we wish Emir all the best and may this boy genius achieve his dreams and ambition of becoming a surgeon. We Malaysians are so proud of you!


Written by: IYLIA ADREENA of Rojak Daily


RCSI on Track to Get University Status

New legislation passed through the Oireachtas will allow higher education institutions to apply to the Minister for Education for university status.

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) will soon be able to begin the process of obtaining university status, after the passing of a new bill today through the Oireachtas.

The Qualifications and Quality Assurance Bill 2018 will introduce a new mechanism enabling RCSI, and other higher education institutions, to apply to the Minister for Education for authorisation to be called a university.

RCSI, which has argued in the past that it is not a private institution but a “public, statutory, regulated institution”, will now find it easier to get accreditation as a university.

In a press statement, Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said: “The title of university is highly prized and its integrity must be protected. The Bill provides a means for higher education institutions that do not receive extensive Exchequer funding to seek authorisation to describe themselves as universities.”

She continued: “I am happy that the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland will now have the opportunity to apply for designation as a university.”

RCSI incorporates schools of medicine, pharmacy, physiotherapy and nursing. Its medical school is the largest in Ireland. It also oversees continuous professional development for medical professionals.

RCSI has been lobbying for university status for several years. The government, however, has previously expressed concerns that giving RCSI university status would create a precedent that other institutions would look to follow.

RCSI was founded by a royal charter of King George III in 1784. The government is reluctant to infer university status on the college due to the issue of administrative arrangements that arise as a result of this charter. The fact that RCSI staff are currently paid privately is also a concern.

The college says its status as a statutory body extends back to its foundation by charter, which was amended by the Oireachtas in the 1990s. RCSI says this status is similar to Trinity’s.

It has also said that the college is a not-for-profit registered charity that is regulated by the Charities Regulator.

University status is becoming increasingly coveted among higher level institutions in Ireland. Last year, the Institute of Technology (ITB), Blanchardstown, the Institute of Technology, Tallaght (ITT), and Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) amalgamated to form the Technological University of Dublin (TU Dublin). The newly-formed institution is the first of its kind in Ireland, and became the largest third level institution in the country.

In February 2019, Cork Institute of Technology (CIT) and the Institute of Technology, Tralee (ITT), submitted a bid to form the Munster Technological University (MTU). In May, the bid was rejected by staff.

Staff cited a lack engagement by management over issues linked to a potential merger as their reason for rejecting the bid.

Written by: Emer Moreau of the University Times Ireland

RCSI Set to Get University Status 235 Years After it Started Training Surgeons

Reforming legislation also increases powers of regulator over English language schools

Set to become a university: the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland building on York Street, Dublin 2. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Set to become a university: the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland building on York Street, Dublin 2. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Marie O’Halloran for The Irish Times

More than 200 years after it started training surgeons, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) is set to become a university following passage of reforming education legislation.

The legislation increases the powers of the Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) the agency which has responsibility for quality and qualifications in further and higher education.

The Bill strengthens its role as the regulator of English language schools. QQI was established in 2012 as the external assessor of standards of teaching and qualifications for third level institutions.

The legislation also establishes a fund that English language schools will be obliged to contribute to if they provide courses of three months or more.

The fund aims to offset losses for students and staff in the event of a language school collapsing. The establishment of the fund follows the abrupt closure of a number of language teaching schools in recent years leaving students without funds they had paid.

Learn English

An estimated 140,000 students come to Ireland every year to learn English.

Under reforms passed by the Dáil and Seanad a new international education mark (IEM) will be established to strengthen the terms and conditions of employment in the sector.

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor welcomed the passage of the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training)(Amendment) Bill, which was passed by the Seanad after amendments from the Dáil.

‘Very specific criteria’

She said that “once the QQA Amendment Bill becomes law it will allow RCSI to apply for permission to describe itself as a university.

“The Act will set out a number of very specific criteria which RCSI will have to meet. These are specified in the Bill.

“I expect to receive an application for the RCSI shortly after the enactment and commencement of the Act. I will review the application and as required by the legislation consult the HEA [Higher Education Authority].”

Under the provisions of the Bill a higher education institution that meets particular eligibility criteria, such as having statutory degree-awarding powers and an established reputation for excellence, will be eligible to apply for authorisation from the Minister of the day to describe itself as a university.

Representatives of the RCSI were in attendance in the visitors’ gallery for the passage of the Bill.

RCSI Researchers Receive €1.4 Million to Investigate Breast Cancer Risk Factors


Two RCSI researchers have been granted emerging investigator awards by the Health Research Board (HRB). The awards, which total a combined €1.4 million, will fund research that will look at breast cancer risk factors and clinical guidelines.

The grants were awarded to Dr Barbara Clyne, Postdoctoral Researcher and Honorary Lecturer in the Department of General Practice and Dr Maeve Mullooly, Research Fellow in the Division of Population Health Sciences.

The work led by Dr Mullooly will examine breast cancer risk factors, with particular focus on a risk factor known as mammographic breast density (MBD). The research will improve knowledge on how this risk factor influences tumour aggressiveness and contribute to better detection of women at high risk of the disease.

The research led by Dr Clyne will aim to develop a toolkit to help the development of Irish national clinical guidelines. The toolkit will equip members of National Clinical Guideline Development Groups on how to select the best approaches to evidence synthesis. The project will also explore how the results of evidence synthesis methods are presented and how guideline development groups use this evidence to develop recommendations.

The Health Research Board (HRB) emerging investigator awards are designed to create a pipeline of researcher leaders who will improve health, influence clinical practice and inform health policy across a broad range of areas.

Speaking on the research grants, Professor Ray Stallings, Director of Research and Innovation, RCSI, said: “These grants will help us continue our mission of leading impactful health research and exploring improvements in breast cancer diagnosis and the development of clinical guidelines . I congratulate Dr Clyne and Dr Mullooly on their achievement of securing funding, which is a testament to the high quality of their research, and I look forward to the results of their studies.”

“We want this investment to advance the skills and expertise of researchers, while at the same time generating research outcomes that have strong potential to impact on people’s health, patient care or health policy,” according to Dr Darrin Morrissey, Chief Executive at the HRB.

In a highly competitive process, a total of 11 awards were selected by an international panel from 45 eligible applications.

“This programme of funding will ensure that researchers can take the next steps in their research career as independent investigators, demonstrate leadership potential and build a complementary support team. All successful applicants in winning funding demonstrated a strong research vision and identified a career path beyond the duration of the funding award which is very promising for the future of health research in Ireland,” said Dr Morrissey.

New Research from TCD and RCSI Reveals How the Body Clock Controls Inflammation

New research reveals how the body clock controls inflammation
New research reveals how the body clock controls inflammation. Pictured left to right: Dr Richard Carroll, Dr Annie Curtis, Mariana Cervantes and George Timmons at RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland). Credit: Patrick Bolger

Researchers at RCSI and Trinity College Dublin have revealed insights into how the body clock controls the inflammatory response, which may open up new therapeutic options to treat excess inflammation in conditions such as asthma, arthritis and cardiovascular disease. By understanding how the body clock controls the inflammatory response, we may be able to target these conditions at certain times of the day to have the most benefit. These findings may also shed light on why individuals who experience body clock disruption such as shift workers are more susceptible to these inflammatory conditions.

The body , the timing mechanism in each cell in the body, allows the body to anticipate and respond to the 24-hour external environment. Inflammation is normally a protective process that enables the body to clear infection or damage, however if left unchecked can lead to disease. The new study, led by researchers at Dr. Annie Curtis’s Lab at RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) in partnership with Prof. Luke O’Neill’s Lab at Trinity College Dublin, is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a leading international multidisciplinary scientific journal.

Dr. Annie Curtis, Research Lecturer in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics at RCSI and senior author, explained that: “Macrophages are key immune cells in our bodies which produce this  when we are injured or ill. What has become clear in recent years is that these cells react differently depending on the time of day that they face an infection or damage, or when we disrupt the body clock within these cells”.

Dr. Jamie Early, first author on the study, said: “We have made a number of discoveries into the impact of the body clock in macrophages on inflammatory diseases such as asthma and multiple sclerosis. However, the underlying molecular mechanisms by which the  clock precisely controls the inflammatory  were still unclear. Our study shows that the central clock protein, BMAL1 regulates levels of the antioxidant response protein NRF2 to control a key inflammatory molecule called IL-1β from macrophages.”

“The findings although at a preliminary stage, offers new insights into the behaviour of  such as arthritis and cardiovascular disease which are known to be altered by the “, added Dr. Early.

Funded by Science Foundation Ireland, the research was undertaken in collaboration between RCSI, Trinity College Dublin and the Broad Institute in Boston, USA.

The paper, The Circadian Clock Protein BMAL1 Regulates IL-1β in Macrophages via NRF2, will be published on Monday, August 20.

RCSI Research Reveals that one in Four Suicide Attempts are Associated with Perceptual Difficulties such as ‘Hearing Voices’

Researchers at RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) have revealed that one quarter of suicide attempts are associated with dysfunction in how the brain interprets basic perceptual information, such as what we see, hear and think. The research shows that this dysfunction can predict suicidal behaviour, and offers new prospects for treatment and suicide prevention. The research is published in JAMA Psychiatry.

Symptoms such as depressed mood, feelings of worthlessness and a sense of hopelessness are well documented in suicidal behaviour. However, in an analysis of more than 80,000 people, new research has revealed that one quarter of individuals who attempted or died by suicide had problems in basic sensory experiences, such as hearing or seeing things that aren’t really there – otherwise known as ‘perceptual abnormalities’.

Such episodes are not necessarily associated with psychotic illnesses or depression and can occur in people who do not experience mental illness, according to the study.

Research over the past 15 years has shown that experiences such as ‘hearing voices’ are far more common than previously thought – about 5-7% of the general population report at least occasionally having experiences such as hearing voices. For some people, these experiences emerge when the brain is under stress or when coping levels are exceeded.

Dr Ian Kelleher, RCSI Psychiatry Research Lecturer and study lead, commented: “Our research shows that if we can understand and treat the factors associated with these perceptual abnormalities, we could prevent at least a quarter of suicide attempts and deaths. Given that about 1 million people die by suicide every year, that’s a very encouraging prospect for suicide prevention.”

“These findings show the need both for clinicians to pay particular attention to patients reporting experience of psychotic experience, and for greater funding for research into recognising a psychosis subtype of suicide”, added Dr Kelleher.

Kathryn Yates, RCSI Psychiatry and study co-author, said: “If we are to understand suicide, we need to understand a lot more about perceptual abnormalities – what causes people to hear voices? How do these experiences relate to the biological and social factors involved in suicide risk? There are still a lot of unanswered questions; but this research points to new avenues to improve prediction of suicidal behaviour.”

The paper, Association of psychotic experiences with subsequent risk of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and suicide deaths: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal population studies, is published in JAMA Psychiatry.