Nine UCC Medical Students awarded HRB Summer Student Scholarships 2016


The Health Research Board have announced this year’s recipients of the HRB Summer Student Scholarships.  Nine UCC medical students were awarded Summer scholarships.

To put this achievement in context, this year the HRB received 141 applications and 42 awards were made, giving a success rate of just under 30%.  UCC received 12 of those awards.

This means that UCC medical students made up 75% of the UCC awardees and  just over 21% of the total number of awards given out nationally.  Please note that this scheme is open to all medical schools, other clinical sciences, in addition to biomedical sciences departments across all the HEIs in Ireland.

The School of Medicine would like to congratulate and thank Drs. Colm O Tuathaigh and Eileen Duggan  for their ongoing success in promoting research among our students, as well as the community of clinical research supervisors based in the Cork teaching hospitals.  The figures above reflect the importance the School puts on nurturing our students’ research.

Gates Foundation award for UCD project targeting child pneumonia

Following a $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundation, a multidisciplinary team of researchers based at UCD Conway Institute will begin field testing their BIOTOPE (biomarkers to diagnose pneumonia) research project in Malawi. gHealth Research will use a new testing procedure to improve the speed and accuracy of pneumonia diagnosis.

Pneumonia is an infection that inflames air sacs in the lungs. It is considered a preventable illness by the United Nations and is responsible for almost one million global deaths of children under the age of five every year. More than 99% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, where BIOTOPE is initially aimed.

The United Nations and World Health Organization has created a global action plan to end preventable deaths from pneumonia by 2025.

According to Grand Challenges Explorations, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initiative funding the research, BIOTOPE “will develop a method to quickly and accurately diagnose bacterial pneumonia in children with acute respiratory infections so that the correct treatments can be given.”

Malawi in southeast Africa has a population of 17 million. It is currently ahead of schedule in its efforts to reduce child mortality. From 1990 – 2013, deaths of children under the age of five declined from 245 to 68 per 100,000 live births. This was the highest recorded reduction worldwide and surpassed Millennium Development Goal 4 to reduce this figure to 82 by 2015.

BIOTOPE’s success could play an active role in maintaining this trend as the United Nations estimates that widening access to appropriate care in communities could result in child pneumonia mortality decreasing by up to 35%.

Pictured top (l-r): Chris Watson, Research Director, gHealth Research; Carolanne Doherty, Project Manager, gHealth
Research; Joe Gallagher, Clinical Director, gHealth Research; and Richard Drew, Consultant Microbiologist.

The project’s focus on accuracy is important to ensure the correct form of pneumonia is identified and necessary treatment is offered. Current practice for diagnosis in less developed countries frequently relies on measuring the breathing rate of patients and assessment of physical symptoms. This can lead to confusion with other illnesses and make accurate diagnosis extremely difficult.

There are three types of pneumonia but antibiotics can only be used to treat its bacterial variant. Misdiagnosis can lead to the inappropriate use of this treatment, increasing the antibiotic resistance of the patient and delaying correct referrals.

“BIOTOPE will use easily obtainable symptoms and signs from children using modern electronic sensors in the community. These will be combined with new blood and urine tests to accurately identify bacterial pneumonia and the children most at risk of illness,” said Dr Joe Gallagher, clinical director of gHealth.

“It is planned that this will be deployed as a mobile phone solution in the future. This will lead to more accurate identification of bacterial pneumonia, reduction in inappropriate antibiotic use, and appropriate early referral of the most at risk of serious illness.”

gHealth was founded in 2013 and is based at UCD Conway Institute. The gHealth team working on BIOTOPE includes Dr Chris Watson, research fellow at UCD School of Medicine and research director of gHealth; Dr Joe Gallagher, clinical director of gHealth; Dr Carolanne Doherty, project manager at gHealth; and Dr Richard Drew, consultant microbiologist in the Rotunda Hospital and Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street.

They will be joined by colleagues from Mzuzu Central Hospital in Malawi, Luke International Norway, Queen’s University Belfast and the Imperial College London Global eHealth Unit.

gHealth focuses on global health issues to develop innovative strategies for diagnosis, treatment and management of disease. BIOTOPE was one of 59 proposals selected from 1,800 submissiona and will begin field testing BIOTOPE in March 2016.

The Grand Challenges in Global Health family of initiatives was launched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2003. It focuses on 14 major scientific challenges that could lead to key advances in preventing, treating and curing diseases in the developing world. Grand Challenges Explorations began in 2007 and twice each year invites high-risk, high-reward proposals that have the potential to meet these challenges.

By: Jonny Baxter, digital journalist, UCD University Relations

UCC neuroscientists identify a mechanism that promotes resilience to stress

Why on the rollercoaster of life are some people more resilient to the negative effects of stress than others? Now University College Cork neuroscientists show that certain receptors in the brain play an important role in determining how we respond to different types of stress. Their research is being published today in the prestigious international journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

It is well known that severe or chronic stressful life events can increase susceptibility to developing psychiatric disorders such as depression. However, many other individuals remain resilient to such negative effects of stress. Thus, scientists are working hard to understand the mechanisms in the brain that determine whether we succumb or resist the negative effects of stress.

Scientists based at the Dept. of Anatomy & Neuroscience and the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre in University College Cork, Cork, Ireland have identified a novel molecular mechanism that determines how the brain responds to chronic stress. Prof John Cryan and Dr Olivia O’Leary, together with their PhD student Daniela Felice and their colleagues have shown that different subtypes of a given receptor (the GABAB receptor) can confer vulnerability to stress (both in early-life and in adulthood). They found that mice lacking the 1b subtype were resilient to stress, while mice lacking the 1a subtype were more susceptible to stress. They also found different expression of these receptors in the brains of a genetic mouse model of depression. Moreover, the absence of these receptors affected how stress impacts the birth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in cognition and emotion. Notably, increased production of new brain cells in the hippocampus is also thought to contribute to the mechanism of action of antidepressant treatments.

Dr O’Leary says “although it is early days, these data show that these receptors could be important targets for the development of new drugs in the treatment of depression, where there is still such an unmet medical need”. Indeed, Prof Cryan says that “understanding the molecular factors that enable the brain to be stress resilient is one of the most exciting areas in neuroscience research currently and these data position the GABAB receptor at the heart of such efforts”, “we still have some way to go to translate these findings into humans but we are very excited by these data“ Cryan continued.

The research was supported by by the European Commission [Framework Programme 7 grant DEVANX (Health-2007-A-201714)]. The Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre is funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) through the Irish Government’s National Development Plan. The research was co-authored by researchers at UCC, Stefano Galimberti, Hélène M. Savignac, Javier A. Bravo, Tadhg Crowley and Ted Dinan in collaboration with Lyon (Malika El Yacoubi), Rouen (Jean-Marie Vaugeois) and Basel-based researchers (Martin Gassmann, Bernhard Bettler).

The research is published in the October 6th early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. “GABAB(1) receptor subunit isoforms differentially regulate stress resilience” Authors: Olivia F. O’Leary, Daniela Felice, Stefano Galimberti, Hélène M. Savignac, Javier A. Bravo, Tadhg Crowley, Malika El Yacoubi, Jean-Marie Vaugeois, Martin Gassmann, Bernhard Bettler, Timothy G. Dinan and John F. Cryan.

UCC students are the bees’ knees

The team involved in the project:L-R Lily Pinson, Fiona Edwards Murphy, Katie Hetherington,Dr Pádraig Whelan,Dr Emanuel Popovici,Mick O'Shea, Liam O’Leary, Professor John O'Halloran and Killian Troy Image: Provision


A project using smart technology to help the plight of the humble honey bee has won a global competition for UCC students against challengers from MIT/Boston University (2nd) and TU Delft (3rd).

The UCC students created an energy-neutral smart beehive for the IEEE /IBM Smarter Planet Challenge 2014.  The competition organisers asked students worldwide to come up with an innovative solution to a grand challenge facing their community.

The UCC pilot project uses big data, mobile technology, wireless sensor networks and cloud computing to look at the impact of carbon dioxide, oxygen, temperature, humidity, chemical pollutants and airborne dust levels on the honey bees, using solar panels for an energy neutral operation.

The energy neutral smart beehive, currently in its first pilot phase, can autonomously monitor the activity of the bee colony and conditions within the beehive.  The data which are stored in an active beehive are protected through traditional methods including cryptography, but the bees also protect it, as team leader Fiona Edwards Murphy says “Honey bees are vicious when protecting their hive, including our data!”

The students’ research will also allow bee keepers to monitor their hives at times that were previously difficult or impossible such as during the night, heavy rain or in the depths of winter.

In the competition the student projects had to fit into one or more key areas, including: Big Data/analytics, cloud computing, cyber security or mobile technologies. The IEEE/IBM Smarter Planet Challengecompetition is run by the largest engineering organisation in the field, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and the prize of €5,000 was sponsored by IBM.  The five prizewinning UCC students came from Electrical and Electronic Engineering (Fiona Edwards Murphy, Liam O’Leary and Killian Troy), the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences (Lily Pinson) and the School of Biological, Environmental and Earth Sciences (Katie Hetherington).  The Irish Research Council is funding the PhD of the team leader Fiona Edwards Murphy who is designing a smart beehive.  UCC has a great track record in this competition, winning it in 2011 and coming second in 2013.  The students were mentored by Dr Emanuel Popovici, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Dr Pádraig Whelan, School of  Biological, Environmental and Earth Sciences and Dr Edward Lahiff, Food and Nutritional Sciences. Dr Popovici and Dr  Whelan also co-supervise Ms Edwards- Murphy’s PhD research.

For the competition the students used a Boolean themed project which was also inspired by Shakespeare, entitled: (2B) OR!(2B): From the beehive to the cloud and back

In their creative video entry that won them the competition (, the students highlighted that the EU, UN and other bodies have predicted growing constraints on global food supplies and prices, as honey bee colonies, identified as the most important pollinator insect for food production, suffer a dramatic decline.

To describe the problem logically, the students presented the problem as a Boolean equation that also paid homage to Shakespeare’s timeless contemplation on life (To be, or not to be…?)


“Population Increase” OR “Climate Change” = “Less Food”


“Less Food” AND “Less Bees” = (2B)OR!(2B)?

The enterprising UCC students have proven that question to be always ‘True’ according to the theory of George Boole – and outlined a potential solution to saving the honey bee, so vital to human, animal and plant life, and a key species in many ecological systems. The students have designed a path to a potential solution that will use bee data on a unique scale and in an unobtrusive manner using mobile and cloud technology to monitor the honey bees.

Dr Michael Murphy, President of UCC said: “At UCC we are hugely proud of our first Professor of Mathematics, George Boole, whose bicentenary we are celebrating this year.  Boole’s theories of logic and probabilities are as powerful today as they were back in the 1800s.  I am delighted that his work has inspired our current students to create novel solutions to an urgent global problem and helped them win an international competition in the process.”

Data from initial observations were captured in two scientific papers and three invention disclosures with smarter hive features and experiments being carried out at the UCC Embedded Systems Laboratory.

Dr Emanuel Popovici, the Director of Embedded Systems Group at UCC comments:

“(2B) or !(2B) is an exceptional interdisciplinary project where long established technologies and beekeeping practices meet the latest advances in electronic technology. It is a project where Boole proves that Shakespeare’s famous existential question is always true. It is a project where five very bright and enthusiastic students from three disciplines interact and exchange some brilliant ideas to help humanity”.



About honey bees

For centuries bees have fascinated scientists, philosophers, writers and are present in many early cultures and mythologies (Aegean, Egyptian, Mayan, etc).  Bees have played a critical role in agriculture, medicine, nutrition, social studies, behavioural studies, environmental studies and even computer science and engineering. Bees are also used as a model system to study various aspects of biology and social organization.

Honey, pollen, propolis, beeswax and bee venom are valuable ingredients in health/alternative medicine and food products. There are many conditions, which can be treated using these products. The most important role of honey bees is not in honey production, but in pollination which is very important for a number of large global agricultural economies such as USA, Europe, South America and China as well as food production chain in general. The value of pollination to the world economy has been put at more than €150 billion per year. Recent years have witnessed an increase in the phenomenon called colony collapse disorder in parts of the world.  The causes for this phenomenon are not well understood and attributed to many potential factors.


About George Boole

Lincoln man, George Boole was the first Professor of Mathematics (1849-64) at UCC.  His work laid the foundations of the information age. His pivotal advances in mathematics, logic and probability provided the essential groundwork for modern mathematics, microelectronic engineering and computer science. His influence is such that he has been called the father of the digital age.  2015 is his 200th birthday and UCC will celebrate his life and legacy with a series of major events during the year.  More

Cardiovascular Disease research receives €6 million EU research award

UCC Bacchus-foodimagev1

A European consortium of clinicians and scientists has launched a major EU-funded collaboration project focused on the prevention of heart disease and stroke through food.  BACCHUS an acronym for ‘Beneficial effects of bioactive compounds in humans’ will receive €6 million in funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme.

BACCHUS aims to generate robust scientific evidence supporting a beneficial effect of bioactive compounds in foods on cardiovascular health, for example reducing high blood pressure.  BACCHUS will also support 16 European small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in using this scientific evidence to create new food products to boost cardiovascular health.  The €6 million research and development project brings together 28 beneficiaries from around Europe, including University College Cork (UCC).

The UCC group, led by Dr Mairead Kiely in the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, is coordinating the human studies work-package in BACCHUS, which will investigate whether the consumption of bioactive compounds including polyphenols in fruit and peptides produced from eggs, meat and cereals can reduce cardiovascular risk.  In total, seven trials will be conducted in the UK, Ireland, Italy, and Spain.

Bioactive compounds found naturally in fruits and vegetables have been linked with beneficial effects on blood pressure and other markers of cardiovascular health.  In addition, new research suggests that specific protein sequences (peptides) naturally present in dairy, eggs, meat and fish may also promote heart health, most notably by reducing blood pressure in adults with hypertension.

“The BACCHUS project provides a significant research opportunity across the areas of food science and nutrition to thoroughly investigate the beneficial health effects associated with bioactive compounds in food.  BACCHUS is strongly linked with the food industry for the development of novel foods designed to benefit cardiovascular health in our population” Dr Mairead Kiely, Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition.

Heart attack and stroke are the number one killers in Ireland, and about 10,000 adults every year die prematurely from cardiovascular disease.  Stroke alone is responsible for the deaths of 2,000 individuals each year – more than breast cancer, prostate cancer and bowel cancer combined – and is the biggest cause of acquired disability in this country.

High blood pressure or hypertension is an important risk factor for heart disease and stroke.  As dietary factors along with other lifestyle measures, such as exercise and moderate alcohol, play a significant role in the prevention and treatment of hypertension; substantial efforts are being invested in the development of foods and food components that may help to lower blood pressure.

The Cork-based study will investigate the potential blood-pressure lowering effect of an egg-derived peptide in 100 adults.  The researchers on the project are currently recruiting participants for this study.  If you are aged between 50 and 65 years, a non-smoker, with no history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes and would like further information about this study or may be interested in participating, please do not hesitate to contact the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, UCC; telephone: (021) 4903688/ (021) 4902310 or alternatively email Alice at