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Meet our PhD researcher and IRC 2020 Scholar - Isabella Batten

I am very happy to have been awarded an IRC Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship award 2020, under the supervision of Dr. Nollaig Bourke, Ussher Assistant Professor, Medical Gerontology, TCD. My IRC-funded PhD project aims to explore the contribution of ageing, specifically biological ageing, in a disease known as ANCA Associated Vasculitis (AAV), a severe autoimmune disease characterised by inflammation of the small blood vessels. AAV primarily affects older individuals and is associated with profound dysregulation of the immune response, however the reasons behind this later in life development remain unknown and so, I want to explore how age-related changes to immunity might be contributing to this disease. From a young age I have been captivated by the world of science. The amazing contributions that science has made to human life is undeniable and the obvious questions that still remain unanswered are utterly compelling. Following a week of work experience in Trinity college’s Science Gallery, I conclusively decided to pursue a career in science beginning with an undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences in Trinity College Dublin specialising in Molecular Medicine.

In the final year of this degree I had the opportunity to meet and work with Dr. Nollaig Bourke and Dr. Cliona Ni Cheallaigh, two brilliant researchers in the field of medical gerontology. During this time I began to explore the diverse impacts of ageing on human health and immunity and was introduced to some of the novel research going on in this field of study, both here in Ireland and around the world. I was completely fascinated by these works and following the completion of my degree I continued in the Bourke lab as a research assistant and soon after made the decision of pursuing a PhD.

The year that I spent as a research assistant in Dr. Bourke’s lab, mainly focusing on the changing type I interferon immune responses with age, was key to my decision of becoming a PhD student. During this time I had the opportunity to work on various projects, learn various techniques and collaborate with various people. I absolutely loved going into work. I loved every aspect of my job; the experiments, the research, the research meetings and conferences and the possibilities of making a positive impact and I knew that this was a passion I needed to pursue. It was towards the end of this year that I began working with Professor Mark Little, an expert in AAV clinical and immune research, in a collaborative project with Dr. Bourke and Dr Mark Robinson (Maynooth University) and this collaboration led to the proposal of what is now my postgraduate project.

With this project I will examine biological age, a measure of age-specific cellular and molecular changes, in AAV and investigate whether the increased risk of AAV development with age is mediated through an accompanied dysregulation in innate immune cell function, as is often seen in individuals exhibiting accelerated ageing.

My hope is that my project will add to our existing knowledge of AAV pathogenesis, increase our understanding of how and why AAV develops and therefore reveal novel therapeutic strategies for managing this disease in the future.