Trinity leads Prestigious Consortium looking into how Cells Communicate
Sep 18, 2012
An international research consortium led by Trinity College Dublin has been granted funding of more than €500,000 to work together to shed light on how cells communicate. The field of study is in its infancy but the research has implications for the study of cancer, macular degeneration, neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases.
Dr Lorraine O’Driscoll of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences is the lead principal investigator for the consortium. The research will look at tiny packages of information spurted out from cells called microvesicles and exosomes.
“Our research on cancer cells initially suggested that these microvesicles and exosomes may be useful bundles of biomarkers, as micromaps of their cell of origin. More intriguingly – and somewhat more worryingly – our more recent studies suggest that, in cancer, they may also be involved in cell-to-cell communication and the transfer of adverse information from cancer cells, contributing to cancer spread to secondary sites throughout the body,” Dr O’Driscoll explains.
Scientists and clinicians from 16 European countries, Australia, three American universities, and five industry partners will be involved in the project. Among the participants are Harvard University, the University of Oxford and INSERM Institut Curie Paris. Industry partners include Nanosight in England, Diagnostic Technologies in Israel and Danone in the Netherlands.
The field of microvesicles and exosomes research is in its infancy, but emerging data suggests they are key players in health and disease. Their involvement has been associated with a broad range of events from stem cell communication in embryo development and the body’s education of the immune system, protecting itself, to conditions such as neurodegenerative disease, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
“While the funding of €536,000 is relatively modest compared to some large EU programmes in which Trinity College Dublin is involved, it allows the collaborators to adopt a multidisciplinary approach to enhance basic understanding of and the translational potential of microvesicles and exosomes.Furthermore, a substantial focus here is on training young European researchers in this new area, through workshops, summer schools and exchange programmes and helping to prepare them for future leadership roles in biomedical research,” adds Dr O’Driscoll.
Funding for the European Network on Microvesicles and Exosomes in Health and Disease (ME-HAD) consortium was granted under the Seventh Framework programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7). This is the EU’s main instrument for funding research in Europe and it will run until 2013.
“As initiator and lead institute, Trinity College Dublin will play a pivotal role in ME-HAD. A number of factors have enabled us to be in a position to take this lead,” says Dr O’Driscoll.
These include essential support for the research from Science Foundation Ireland, the Marie Keating Foundation, the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering & Technology (IRCSET), Health Research Board, Trinity Foundation and the Danish Council for Strategic Research.
The Higher Education Authority’s support of the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute and its state-of-the-art facilities, through the Programme for Research in Third-Level Institutions, means that it is able to host ME-HAD meetings, workshops and summer schools.
Dr O’Driscoll is highly respected in field. Following her BSc(pharmacology) and MSc(clinical pharmacology), her PhD studies in Dublin City University focused on multiple drug resistance in cancer. She worked in research for industry before returning to academic research and teaching. Since 2001, as collaborator or principal investigator, she has secured research and capital funding approaching €40 million from such authorities as the EU. She also sits on a number of national and international boards and acts as editorial board member and reviewer for key scientific journals.