Three researchers in the School of Medicine have been backed in the latest round of funding under the Irish Research Council New Foundations awards scheme which are designed to help civic society organisations and Government departments to devise evidence-based strategies and policies.  The awardees will work with knowledge users in society to better understand the needs of people whose health is impacted negatively by disease or a challenging environment. The problems tackled are in the areas of: Intimate partner violence (Dr Meg Ryan); Homelessness (Dr. Julie Broderick) and Multiple Sclerosis (Dr. Eric Downer).

More detail on each new award are outlined below.

Irish Research Council New Foundations Project details:

1. Title of Research Project 

“Understanding the relationship between reproductive coercion and intimate partner violence in an Irish context; a stakeholder informed qualitative analysis”.

Name, Title  of Lead PI 
Dr Meg Ryan, Assistant Professor Global Health, Discipline of Public Health and Primary Care

Knowledge exchange partner: Dublin Rape Crisis Centre

Reproductive coercion (RC) is defined as deliberate attempts to influence or control the reproductive autonomy of another person. This is a form of intimate partner violence (IPV) thought to be linked to poorer sexual reproductive health (SRH) outcomes. However, the links between IPV and RC are poorly understood, impacting the development of effective interventions. The current project is a partnership with the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre which aims conduct research exploring the current state of knowledge regarding IPV and RC in an Irish context through a rapid review and exploratory qualitative study with relevant stakeholders. 

The project will provide a foundation for further high-quality research aimed at developing intervention guidelines for GBV programming to enhance capacity to provide more effective services to those impacted. Evidence generated will be used to inform policy and legislation decisions, allowing organisations relevant to SRH and GBV to advocate with governments and donors for increased allocation of resources and budgets to prevent and mitigate RC. Finally, results can be used to inform education strategies to transform harmful social norms contributing to GBV. Organisations dedicated to addressing GBV will be supported to engage the public in constructive dialogue, reflection, and action. 

The project will have four main outcomes. First, new research collaborations will be developed through the inclusion of a PPI-AG. Second, existing connections between the research partners will be consolidated, leading to knowledge and expertise sharing. Third, this will enable new knowledge creation and mobilisation, including outputs such as two papers published in open-access, peer-reviewed academic journals, alongside conference presentations. Finally, engagement and translational outputs that extend beyond the academy, including a dissemination seminar and policy briefs, will share this information with a wider audience, creating an increased external demand for changes in legislation and funding for GBV services. 

Speaking about the research, Dr Ryan said: 

Developing a better understanding of how reproductive coercion appears in an Irish context will allow us to better support those impacted.

2. Title of Research Project 

“Outcomes of a Low-threshold Exercise And Protein supplementation intervention for Women experiencing Homelessness and addiction - the LEAP-W Study”.

Name, Title  of Lead PI 
Dr. Julie Broderick, Assistant Professor, Discipline of Physiotherapy.

Knowledge exchange partner: Merchants Quay Ireland

Women who are homeless generally die young and have poorer health. Addiction to cope with trauma is common. Our previous research with women experiencing homelessness showed a willingness, yet a caution around engaging in a mixed exercise programme with men. Some prefer women-only services due to previous domestic abuse/trauma. The objective is to test how a women-only exercise programme works in practice, to build a network with the Charity Partner Merchants Quay Ireland and to provide accurate information so good clinical and policy decisions can be made to benefit the health of women who are homeless.

Speaking about the award, Dr. Julie Broderick said: 

I am really excited to see this targeted exercise programme for women who are homeless funded by the Irish Research Council. Women who are homeless suffer disproportionally from poor health and earlier manifestation of geriatric syndromes such as frailty and falls. With the women-only focus we can really target their specific and unique physical health needs in a safe and supportive environment’’

3. Title of Research Project 

“National network for knowledge exchange and education in multiple sclerosis research”

Name, Title  of Lead PI : Dr. Eric Downer, Associate Professor, Discipline of Physiology

Knowledge exchange partner: MS Ireland

The goal of this project is to bring together a network of academics, clinicians, researchers, industry experts and civic partner members, to promote knowledge exchange and education in the area of multiple sclerosis (MS) research. This will bring together a network of multi-disciplinary MS researchers across the island of Ireland, and engage with international experts in the field. The aim is to continue to build collaborative research avenues, to educate and inform the MS community via the creation of an MS masterclass research event, to enable MS Ireland to provide information and support to the MS community, and to accelerate research and understanding into the pathogenesis and treatment avenues in MS.

Dr. Eric Downer will lead this project and will work in close partnership with MS Ireland to disseminate practical and accurate information in all aspects of MS research to the MS community, whilst co-operating with researchers and healthcare professionals to promote scientific research into the causes of, cure for, and management of MS.

Speaking about the award, Dr Downer said: 

The proposal will advance the goals of the All-Ireland MS research network (AIMS-RN), a collaborative network of researchers whose aim is to connect MS researchers on the island of Ireland.”

Dr Eric Downer, Dr Julie Broderick and Dr Meg Ryan