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Health Research Board Emerging Investigator Awards

Congratulations to Dr Sharee Basdeo and Dr Natalia Munoz-Wolf who are recipients of the Health Research Board Emerging Investigator Awards.

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 range of areas. In a highly competitive process, a total of 11 awards were selected by an international panel from 45 eligible applications. 4 out of the 11 awards were selected from Trinity and 2 of these 4 from the departments of Clinical Medicine. One from Clinical Medicine at St James's Hospital and one from Clinical Medicine at Tallaght University Hospital.

Sharee Basdeo - Clinical Medicine, St James's Hospital Dr Sharee Basdeo

Dr Sharee Basdeo is an immunologist based in the Trinity Translational Medicine Institute at St James's Hospital. Her research studies our immune system with the aim of informing the development of new therapies to advance healthcare in Ireland, and across the world. Her particular interest is in the immune response to the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes the disease Tuberculosis (TB).

TB is currently the world's most deadly infectious disease, killing approximately 1.6 million people annually. In Ireland last year we had 315 cases and 8 TB outbreaks, 14 deaths and a striking increase in TB notifications from patients on immunosuppressive therapies for diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. This bacteria primarily infects the lungs, causing damage and inflammation which if untreated can be fatal. Normally, a patient is treated with a combination of antibiotics to help them clear the bacteria from their lungs. Alarmingly however, the bacteria is becoming resistant to antibiotics, meaning that new and innovative therapies must be developed to combat this global threat to public health.

Describing her research Dr Basdeo said: "My work aims to develop new ways of combating the bacteria, harnessing the power of a patient's immune system to defeat the disease. Therefore the aims of my research is two-fold, firstly we must understand the exact mechanism that the human body uses in response to TB. Secondly, we must discover a way to manipulate this mechanism, to promote the clearance of the bacteria and prevent damage to the delicate lung tissue".

And explaining the significance of this award, she commented: "This will enable me to start my own independent research team, allowing me to prioritise and develop this project further. The grant will also allow me to engage with international collaborators to combine our efforts to take first step to developing new innovative therapies against TB. In addition to experimental work, this award will also fund more holistic aims such as; public science education, developing the first research network of TB patients in Ireland and making my lab an early access point to STEM research for young people at risk of educational disadvantage."

Dr Natalia Munoz-Wolf - Clinical Medicine, Tallaght University Hospital. Dr Natalie Munoz-Wolf

Dr Munoz-Wolf's research project is entitled: Harnessing the power of the Gut-Lung Axis: How Dietary Short-Chain Fatty Acids Balance Inflammatory Outcomes in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease ('DiSBIO-COPD') This project aims to develop new treatments for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a devastating lung condition that is the third cause of death worldwide and affects over half a million people in Ireland. Respiratory infections are common in COPD patients and trigger COPD flare-ups that lead to serious trouble breathing and can be difficult to treat. Excitingly, we have uncovered an intriguing new connection between the microbes in our gut: the gut microbiome, and the way our lungs fight these infections. This project will investigate how this 'gut-lung connection' influences infections and flare-ups in COPD. Understanding how an imbalanced gut microbiome affects the lungs in COPD is important so we can develop nutritional approaches to correct this imbalance and ameliorate COPD symptoms. This project holds great potential for the rapid development of low-cost nutritional therapies for management of COPD that could benefit over 250 million people worldwide.

Speaking about the importance of the HRB emerging investigator award for her research, Dr Munoz-Wolf said: "I've always been motivated by the thrill of new discoveries and a strong expectation that my work could make a difference in peoples' lives. This HRB Emerging Investigator Award will allow me to carry out my research at the forefront of respiratory immunology and microbiome to develop innovative therapies for COPD and other respiratory diseases."