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Orla Hardiman wins eminent HRB Impact Award 2023 for her outstanding achievements

Professor Hardiman received the award for her exceptional contribution to research that has informed policy and practice in a way that positively impacts both the care and well-being of patients and their families.

“My guiding light throughout my research career has been to continuously ask myself whether the research work we do “matters” in a real-world sense to those we serve? -  Professor Orla Hardiman

The Health Research Board has presented their Impact Award 2023 to Orla Hardiman, Professor of Neurology at Trinity College, Consultant Neurologist at Beaumont Hospital, and National Clinical Lead, Neurology, at the Health Services Executive.

The prestigious award – selected by an international panel - recognises how Orla’s exceptional contribution to research has informed policy and practice in a way that positively impacts both the care and the well-being of patients living with neurodegenerative conditions and their families.

Accepting the award, Professor Hardiman said:

I am grateful and humbled to be nominated for the HRB Impact Award by Professor Doherty at Trinity College Dublin and Ms Magdalen Rogers of the Neurological Alliance of Ireland. My genuine hope is that I, and our research group, have made an impact that will outlast our own professional careers and that we will in the future be able to say that ALS/MND is a chronic, rather than a fatal, condition.”

Presenting the award, Dr Mairéad O’Driscoll, Chief Executive at the Health Research Board said:

The HRB Impact Award celebrates people whose research improves health policy and practice and leads to meaningful change for people’s health and care. And I can’t think of a better example of that than Professor Hardiman.

Throughout her career Professor Hardiman has put her patients and their families first. This has been the main driver for her research and her contribution to advancing professional practice. Her ability to deliver is not just down to her innovative ideas, clinical excellence, or her ability to advocate, but because she is guided always by the impact that her work has on patients. That is why Orla is so deserving of this award.

Speaking about the driving force behind her research, Orla said:

Very early in my professional life, I made a conscious decision that all of my research endeavours would be guided by my experience as a working clinician, and by my desire to improve the lives of those whom I have the privilege of serving as a Consultant Neurologist.

My guiding light throughout my research career has been to continuously ask myself whether the research work we do “matters” in a real-world sense to those we serve?

In my clinical career I have tried to improve both the lot of people with chronic neurologic disease and to enhance clinical services for those with ALS/MND and related disorders.

From her early days and establishing the first specialist multidisciplinary clinics in Ireland for neurological  conditions, to her current role as National Clinical Lead in Neurology for the Health Service Executive, Professor Hardiman has been an inspirational leader who has ensured that research delivers for health.

The transformative impact of Professor Hardiman’s research at a glance

  • Professor Hardiman’s early scientific work provided new insights into the complex genetic components of neurogenerative disease.
  • Her HRB-funded research has supported the longest running population-based Register for Amyotrophic Sclerosis / Motor Neuron Disease in the world. This has inspired similar registers in the US and Latin America to which she has also contributed her expertise.
  • Orla created the first multidisciplinary clinics for patients with neurological conditions. In those she championed the inclusion of voluntary organisations as part of the team, leading to a true integrating between hospital and community-based care. That practice continues in her clinics to this day. 
  • Her early work led to the first Standard of Care for Neurological Conditions, and these were instrumental in the establishment of the 2003 Comhairle na nOispideal report on Neurological services in Ireland, which led to an increase in the number of Neurologists across Ireland from 11 in 1996, to over 40 currently in post.
  • Her clinical management of ALS/MND also directly informed the 2016 HSE Model of Care for Neurology.
  • She established a Motor Neuron Disease clinic at Beaumont Hospital which has gone on to become the national centre for MND and which provides direct care for over 80% of Irish patients with ALS. It is also recognised as a European and global centre of excellence.
  • Orla has forged a career that has inspired and motivated a generation of health researchers. She has supervised 29 PhDs, four MDs, over ten post docs and ten Consultant Neurologists.

Orla spoke of the importance and privilege of collaborative work with colleagues and students:

I am aware that professional success never occurs in isolation, and I am very fortunate to have been motivated by the many exceptionally bright students and trainees with whom I have worked throughout my professional life, all of whom have shaped my research career and outlook. It remains a great privilege to be able to support the wide range of cutting-edge scientific projects within our research group, of which I am very proud.  And particularly as a mature woman, I appreciate the opportunity I have to continue to mentor younger female clinician scientists as they juggle career, family life and research.

I am also truly fortunate to collaborate with many wonderful international colleagues, those like-minded clinician scientists across the world with whom I share a passion for high quality clinical research.

In her closing comments, Orla remembered the patients and families who have been part of her research:

And finally, it is very important to recognise that all of our clinical research work has been built around the personal tragedies of those who have been diagnosed with motor neuron disease and related conditions. We are very thankful to the thousands of individuals and their families who continue to allow us to study and learn from their journeys.

You can find out more about Professor Hardiman’s career highlights and research under the following: