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Welcome to our IRC Scholars as they embark on their PhD research

 

The School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin is delighted to welcome and congratulate Amrita Dwivedi, Kathryn Dane and Isabellla Batten, our 3 recipients of the 2020 Government of Ireland Postgraduate Awards. The awards were announced by Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, on Friday 23rd October.

Below, we have asked the scholars to tell us about what motivated them to follow their particular path in a research career.

 

Amrita Dwivedi, PhD Title: “Cross-Disease Assessment of Granulocyte Phenotypic and Functional Heterogeneity”

As Michael Morpurgo said, ‘It’s the teacher that makes the difference and not the classroom’, I too had one such teacher who played an integral part in nudging me on this career path. It was my high-school biology teacher and his dedication to teaching which helped me build a very strong foundation in biology. After completing high-school, I decided to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in biotechnology, chemistry and zoology from Christ University in Bengaluru. Here, I was introduced to diverse ideas and different disciplines within the field, one of them being immunology. I found learning about the immune system and the underlying mechanisms behind human diseases quite interesting. I knew I wanted to go into research and was keen on pursuing my higher studies abroad to witness cutting edge research and also to get an international experience. Thus, when it came to decide where I wanted to pursue a masters in Immunology, Trinity College Dublin stood out as a pioneer in the field of immunology research.

During my master’s studies, I got the opportunity to learn about the state of the art research ongoing in TCD from eminent professors and researchers. I had a wonderful experience working on my research project during my masters, that’s when I decided to stay in Ireland and pursue my doctoral studies here. But the journey after masters was not easy, it took me a while to get a research position and I was beginning to doubt my ability to become a researcher. I am very grateful to Prof Cliona O’Farrelly for introducing me to my current PI Prof Mark Little. Prof Little is the second teacher who has made a huge difference in my career path. He has imparted me with great confidence, and this IRC award would never have been accomplished without his encouragement and support.

I had been looking for a PhD project relevant to my research interest in inflammation and innate immunology with a strong translational focus. Prof Little’s group is at the forefront of translational vasculitis research and aligns well with my own research interests. The focus of my PhD project is comparing populations of low-density granulocytes elevated in disease conditions like ANCA-associated vasculitis, lung cancer, sepsis and rheumatoid arthritis, in order to delineate the specific role of these novel immune cells in the immunopathology of these four diseases.

Lastly, my biggest source of inspiration has been my father, who has always believed in me and my capabilities. He has taught me to be patient and tenacious, which are the values that have helped me so far and I am sure will help me on my doctoral journey. My motivation for undertaking a PhD is further fuelled by a desire to advance my educational background and to make a valuable contribution to the field of immunology. After PhD, I would like to continue my academic training as a postdoctoral researcher. The government of Ireland postgraduate scholarship will bring me a step closer to my aspiration of becoming a scientist.

 

Isabella Batten: PhD title: “The Age-old Problem of ANCA Associated Vasculitis”,

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 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.

 

Kathryn Dane - PhD title: “Safety and Optimal tackle outcomes in Senior Women’s Rugby”.

From a young age sport has played an important role in my life. Representing underage Northern Ireland Soccer, Ulster Women’s rugby and most recently the Irish Senior women’s Rugby team have been powerful influences in my life. The challenges of elite sporting environments has endowed me with an appreciation of the importance of high quality research in optimising athlete wellbeing. Coming from a small rural school in County Fermanagh it was the prospect of playing AIL Rugby in Dublin which first guided my CAO application, but I was drawn to Physiotherapy in TCD thanks to the reputation of the department and their high regard for Sports Medicine.

The Sports and Exercise medicine module delivered by Dr Fiona Wilson during my Undergraduate studies triggered my desire to follow a research pathway within physiotherapy. I graduated from TCD with a bachelor’s degree in Physiotherapy in 2019. A summer studentship in June 2019 allowed me the opportunity to work alongside Dr Fiona Wilson and other world leaders in Sports Medicine in the development of an International Consensus Statement for the Assessment and Management of Low Back Pain in Rowing athletes. Two systematic review publications are currently under review for this project. It was a privilege to be given the opportunity to assist in such important research and the process was pivotal in helping me realise my passion for research.

Since graduating I have worked in both research at TCD and clinical practice. My clinical practice involves both inpatient Physiotherapy at the Beacon Hospital, private practice treating sports and musculoskeletal patients in Dublin and Fermanagh U20s Gaelic Football team.

Now I have been fortunate enough to be awarded the Irish Research Council Postgraduate Scholarship for a four year PhD in TCD. My PhD titled “Safety and Optimal tackle outcomes in Senior Women’s Rugby” will aim to identify the associated risk factors for tackle injuries, with the main goal of guiding the formulation of injury prevention strategies and interventions in female Rugby Union. Through my own experience playing Rugby I have a first-hand understanding of the physical demands of the rugby tackle and it is a topic that is very important to me. Despite the tackle being a high-priority research area for World Rugby, no research has investigated tackle safety, proficiency, injury risks and outcomes in female Rugby Union players. It is important not to assume female rugby players experience exactly the same risks and adverse effects of tackling as men’s rugby. Therefore, this research will provide important information to medical experts and policy makers in Rugby. I am an advocate for women’s sport and perhaps my research may help address the imbalance in gender representation in sports medicine and performance research. I hope to develop and integrate the research skills I gain from postgraduate studies at Trinity to my professional practice as a clinical physiotherapist and fulfil my ambition in becoming an impactful researcher.