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SFI-IRC Pathway Programme awards for two School of Medicine researchers

Two talented young emerging scientists from the School of Medicine have scooped 2 of the 8 SFI-IRC Pathway awards secured by Trinity in this highly competitive and national programme. The combined €1 million research funding will investigate two distinct global health challenges - cancer and arthritis.

The School of Medicine awardees are:

Dr Dania Movia, Assistant Professor of the Discipline of Radiation Therapy, School of Medicine
Dr. Viviana Marzaioli, Research Assistant Professor, Clinical Medicine, School of Medicine

Dr Dania Movia, Assistant Professor of the Discipline of Radiation Therapy, School of Medicine

Project title: Extracellular vesicles in Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer - Finding allies among the enemies

Dania’s project sets out to determine how to tackle the current issue of acquired resistance that inevitably develops after a first response in non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients.
NSCLC, the most common type of lung cancer accounting for 80-85% of all lung cancer diagnoses, is a devastating disease and the leading cause of cancer-related mortality in Ireland and worldwide. Targeted drugs significantly improve the quality of life of NSCLC patients, but often fail to prolong the overall survival of NSCLC patients. This therapeutic paradox is attributed to the arising of drug resistance in the patient, a phenomenon usually referred to as “acquired resistance”.

The project assesses the hypothesis that extracellular vesicles (EVs), which are tiny particles released from cancer cells that drive acquired resistance in NSCLC and act as enemies in the therapeutic fight, can be used as allies for monitoring treatment outcomes in real-time.

Dania’s research output will be of great value to the Irish healthcare landscape. The economic burden of lung cancer to the national health services is substantial. With 2,700 people diagnosed every year, lung cancer is the 5th most common cancer in Ireland. In 2009, this costed €209 million to the Irish health services. With the introduction of targeted therapies, these costs have increased, and they are expected to rise further in coming years with population ageing. Also, the cancer economic burden does not fall only on the health services. Data from the Irish Cancer Society show that the average financial cost on patients and their families is €756/month, which adds to an average drop in income of €18,323 per annum. The early identification of acquired resistance enabled through the results generated by this research, could improve the prognosis of NSCLC patients and reduce the societal and economic impact of this disease.

Speaking about the award, Dania said:

I am very excited to lead this research, which I hope will generate important implications in defining reliable non-invasive tools of clinical prediction of targeted therapy efficacy, towards precision medicine approaches

Dr. Viviana Marzaioli, Research Assistant Professor, Clinical Medicine, School of Medicine

Project title: Decoding the impact of joint micro-environment on monocyte molecular signatures and function: ‘Impact for prediction of disease pathotype and disease outcome’.

Rheumatoid (RA) and Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) are two inflammatory arthritis diseases affecting the joint, leading to disability in ~ 2% of the Irish population. The two diseases have many common manifestations, although their pathogenesis at cellular and molecular level are often different. Current therapies lead to diverse response in patients, becoming clear that “One size does not fit all”. Viviana’s project will investigate cellular mechanisms involved in monocyte development which might account for the differential disease progression and response to therapy in RA and PsA patients. With the resources in Trinity College Dublin, and the collaboration with Irish hospitals and charity groups, this multifaceted research approach will significantly advance our knowledge of the diverse disease pathogenesis for the identification of new disease markers and drug-candidates for the treatment of RA, PsA and possibly other autoimmune diseases.

The peak onset of RA/PsA is during the 3rd and 4th decade of life and therefore predominantly affects the working population, estimating that 40% of patients exit the workforce within 5-years of diagnosis. The translational approach of this work will generate evidence-based interventional strategy, which will positively impact Irish patients, thus resulting in significant improvements in their contributions to society. This project will also benefit rheumatologists, clinicians, industrial partners, and the global academic community.

On a more personal level, this funding will help Viviana to become an independent scientist and advance her research to focus on stratified medicine approaches for the treatment of autoimmune diseases.

Speaking about the award, Viviana said:

With the support of the SFI-IRC Pathway award, I'll be able to conduct innovative research that will advance knowledge and improve patient health”.

(L-R: Dr Dania Movia and Dr. Viviana Marzaioli)