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HRB Emerging Investigator Awards for three School of Medicine academic researchers

Trinity has won three of nine new Emerging Investigator Awards for Health (EIA) 2022 from the Health Research Board (HRB) who have invested a total of €7 million to nurture a talented new generation of academic researchers. All three researchers are from the School of Medicine at Trinity.

The prestigious Emerging Investigator Awards aim to create a cohort of talented new independent academic investigators by facilitating and supporting their transition from postdoctoral researchers to independent and self-directed health research investigators in the Republic of Ireland.

The Trinity awardees are:

Dr Achilleas Floudas, Senior Research Fellow, Clinical Medicine, School of Medicine
Dr Mary Canavan, Assistant Professor in Immunology, School of Medicine
Dr Lara McManus, Research Fellow, School of Medicine, Trinity College

Trinity’s successful applicants were selected in a two-stage application process, underpinned by rigorous review, including expert international peer review, an applicant response stage and interviews conducted by an independent and international panel.

Awardees and project information

Dr Achilleas Floudas, Senior Research Fellow, Clinical Medicine, School of Medicine

Project title: Polyfunctional-T – stromal cell crosstalk in the joint of patients with inflammatory arthritis
There are over a million people in Ireland with inflammatory arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, and they all know the frustration of the trial-and-error approach in finding the right treatment. Often this entails enduring chronic pain over several years before a successful drug is stumbled upon. This study will bring us closer to administering the right therapy at the right time. Cracking the poly-T-cell code will lead to significant advances in the field of immunology and clinical practice.

Achilleas said:

This important award affords me the opportunity to work on an interdisciplinary project with patient partners and academic collaborators in order to answer key questions with high translational potential.

Dr Mary Canavan, Assistant Professor in Immunology, School of Medicine

Project title: Ongoing examination of the PD-1: PD-L1 pathway throughout the evolution of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease which causes joint destruction, disability, and increased mortality. While treatment has improved, only one in four patients achieve full remission. Furthermore, predicting who will develop severe disease or respond to treatment is difficult. This research will examine an immune pathway known as PD-1 and aims to understand how this may contribute to the development of RA. PD-1 is a negative regulator meaning, when it is activated or 'switched on' it dampens down the immune response. In this way it can be viewed as a brake in slowing inflammation in the body. It is found at high levels in the joints of RA patients, even those in early stages of disease. This study aims to understand why and assess if PD-1 has an alternative function in these patients that may be contributing to their disease. There is the potential to identify new treatments and enable clinicians to stratify or group patients, thus facilitating early and more personalised treatment interventions. Ultimately, this will allow patients to be treated with the right medication, at the right time, before their disease becomes severe.

Mary said:

"I am humbled and excited to be one of this year's recipients of the HRB Emerging Investigator Award and am grateful to my colleagues and collaborators for their continued support. Receiving this award will not only help to deliver real impact for people affected by Rheumatoid Arthritis but will also allow me to train the next generation of scientists – both of which I am deeply passionate about."

Dr Lara McManus, Research Fellow, School of Medicine, Trinity College

Project title: Cortical and Spinal Connectivity of Motor Units as a novel biomarker of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) pathology.

Ireland has the highest overall incidence of ALS in Europe. Combining information from electroencephalogram (EEG) and direct recordings from motor units will increase the likelihood of identifying early signs of motor unit degeneration. This will enable a faster diagnosis and earlier enrolment in clinical trials; identify different patient sub-groups; objectively monitor disease progression; and improve the identification and testing of new drugs and therapies for ALS.

Lara said:

"In this project I will use high density surface electromyography to examine the electrical activity of muscles in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that is characterised by disruption of motor networks. By examining signals recorded from the brain and from motor units in the muscle, I will quantify this network disruption in ALS as the disease progresses."

More information is available here: https://www.hrb.ie/news/news-story/article/hrb-invests-e7-million-to-nurture-a-talented-new-generation-of-academic-researchers/

(L-R: Dr Achilleas Floudas, Dr Mary Canavan and Dr Lara McManus)