The awards will enable the generation of new knowledge to address major health challenges, while also providing a continuum of support to retain our top research talent.
The School of Medicine awardees will investigate improved care and treatment pathways for (1) Non-tuberculous mycobacterial lung disease (Dr Claire Healy), and (2) Improving Paediatric Vaccines (Dr Kiva Brennan).
More detail on each of the ground breaking new projects are outlined below.

SFI-IRC Pathways Awards 2022 Project details:

Title of Research Project  Improving Paediatric Vaccines - Closing the Window of Vulnerability

Name of School of Medicine Awardee:  Dr Kiva Brennan, Research Assistant Professor, Clinical Medicine & Trinity Inst. of Neurosciences (TCIN)

Worldwide, millions of children die every year due to infectious diseases. While vaccinations have saved millions of lives, there remains a significant need to enhance childhood vaccine efficacy. Infants receive vaccinations against dangerous infections but achieve full protection only after several booster vaccinations. This is because their immune systems are not fully mature and do not function in the same way as an adult’s immune system, leaving a “window of vulnerability” in a child’s life before booster vaccinations can take effect.

To maximise the effectiveness of vaccines, adjuvants can be added to boost the immune response. Most vaccines and adjuvants are developed and tested in adults; thus, effective adjuvants for the paediatric population are often overlooked. The aim of this study is to narrow the window of vulnerability to vaccine preventable disease in a child’s life by translating this adjuvant into pre-clinical models.

Speaking about the award, Dr Brennan said: 
“This award will allow me to carry out proof-of-concept studies in neonatal animal models illustrating that addition of paediatric-relevant adjuvants to current vaccines can improve vaccine responses. Furthermore, bioinformatics and computer-aided drug design will be utilised to develop a proprietary paediatric adjuvant for future commercial development”.

Title of Research Project  Lipid and Iron Overloaded Lung Macrophages Fuel Opportunistic NonTuberculous Mycobacterial (NTM) Respiratory Infections.

Name of School of Medicine Awardee : Dr Claire Healy, Research Assistant Professor, Cloonan Laboratory, Clinical Medicine, School of Medicine

Non-tuberculous mycobacterial lung disease (NTM-LD) is now recognized as a chronic condition with considerable morbidity, mortality and inadequate treatment strategies. NTM-LD commonly occurs in those living with respiratory co-morbidities, resulting in decreased quality of life and increased mortality for these vulnerable individuals. The incidence of NTM infections is on the rise globally, including in Ireland. This increasing trend in NTM infections indicates a growing global disease burden which we do not have the effective tools and measures to manage. There is an urgent need to better understand how opportunistic NTM pathogens interact with the compromised host to develop improved targeted therapies for NTM-LD. The diseased lung microenvironment is vastly different to that of the healthy lung, yet how this altered nutrient landscape promotes infection remains to be fully elucidated. The aim of this research is to examine the role of nutrient-dysregulated alveolar macrophages, the key intracellular niche for NTM during infection, in promoting NTM-LD.

Speaking about the award, Dr Healy said: 
“This award will address the increasing global health concern of non-tuberculous mycobacterial (NTM) respiratory infections, which disproportionately affects those with chronic underlying conditions”

                           Dr Kiva Brennan and Dr Claire Healy