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Research leaders

Our academic leaders demonstrate excellence in scholarship by conducting, in collaboration with our teaching hospitals and primary care practices, groundbreaking research and publishing regularly in peer-reviewed journals.

Bowel Cancer Research

Prof. Colm O'MorainColorectal Cancer (CRC) is the most commonly diagnosed malignancy and the second largest cause of cancer related death in Europe. It is the third most common cancer in Ireland. Approximately 1 in 24 people in Ireland will develop bowel cancer during their lifetime and more than 900 people die from colorectal cancer each year. Can this burden be decreased by early detection and cure of precancerous lesions in Irish patients using existing resources? This is the key question which was answered with an emphatic yes by a multi-disciplinary team of clinical and scientific researchers from the TCD department of Clinical Medicine, led by Prof. Colm O’Moráin, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at TCD and Consultant Gastroenterologist at the Adelaide and Meath Hospital incorporating the National Children’s Hospital, Tallaght (AMNCH). The annual report of the first year of screening at AMNCH revealed at least 50 lives were saved by this research project in a 12-month period. This project involves using a highly sensitive and specific faecal immunohistochemical screening technique to carefully identify those who would benefit from a colonoscopy to screen for cancers. Prof. O’Moráin has had a long and distinguished career in gastroenterology and is a world leader and opinion former in the fields of inflammatory bowel disease, helicobacter pylori and the prevention of digestive cancers. As well as his research role, Prof. O’Moráin remains a highly active clinician in gastroenterology and general internal medicine and combines these roles with a strong commitment to teaching and mentoring at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

Genetics of Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder

Dr CorvinNew evidence suggests that many common DNA variants contribute to a person’s risk of schizophrenia, a common mental disorder affecting about one in a hundred of the adult Irish population. Surprisingly, many of the same DNA variants also appear to be involved in bipolar disorder. The findings, reported by the International Schizophrenia Consortium that includes TCD scientists, are published online in the journal ‘Nature’ (2009). The study found evidence that many DNA variants, commonly occurring in the population, combine to increase the risk to develop the disorder. These findings provide a new perspective on the genetics of these diseases. The TCD team is led by Dr. Aiden Corvin (pictured), Head of the Psychosis Research Group. The other TCD PIs are Prof. Michael Gill, Dr. Gary Donohoe and Dr. Derek Morris.

Motor Neurone Disease Research

Prof Orla HardimanIn April 2009 Prof. Orla Hardiman, Health Research Board Clinician Scientist and Consultant Neurologist at Beaumont Hospital, Clinical Professor of Neurology at Trinity College Dublin, became the first Irish recipient of the Sheila Essey Award from the American Academy of Neurology. The award recognises people who have made significant contributions in the search for the cause, prevention of, and cure for Motor Neurone Disease (MND). Prof. Hardiman’s project has been funded through the years primarily by the Health Research Board, with support from the American Muscular Dystrophy Association, American ALS Association, the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Foundation, and the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association. Her team has made a number of significant discoveries and include: the discovery of a new gene for Motor Neurone Disease; mutations in the gene ANG, (which codes for the protein angiogenin), lead to motor neurone death; the discovery that particular variations in genes can make certain populations more susceptible to Motor Neurone Disease than others; the discovery that Irish people with Motor Neurone Disease come from families where other neurodegenerative conditions such as Dementia and Parkinsons are more common: the finding that changes in thinking, memory and language (cognitive impairment) occurs in up to 50% of Irish MND patients, and that genes that cause cognitive impairment may be related to genes for MND.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Benefit Cancer Patients Undergoing Major Operations

Prof ReynoldsNew research from Trinity College Dublin published in ‘Annals of Surgery’ (2009) points to a potentially significant advance in the treatment of patients undergoing major cancer surgery. The study was carried out by the oesophageal research group at Trinity College Dublin and St. James’s Hospital, including Prof. John V Reynolds (pictured) and Dr. Aoife Ryan PhD. A randomised controlled trial showed omega-3 fatty acids given as part of a nutritional supplement before and after oesophageal surgery for cancer resulted in preservation of muscle mass. This finding is highly significant as surgery for oesophageal cancer is normally associated with loss of muscle mass, severe weight loss and compromised quality of life. The research group found that patients given the standard feed (without omega 3) suffered clinically severe weight loss post surgery – losing an average of 4 lbs of muscle mass post surgery, where as in the omega 3 group patients maintained all aspects of their body composition.

Potential for New Therapies in the Treatment of Eczema

Prof FallonAn international collaboration between TCD scientists and researchers in Scotland and Japan has developed a new animal model that reproduces a major genetic cause of human eczema. The TCD team was led by Professor Padraic Fallon (pictured), Science Foundation Ireland Stokes Professor of Translational Immunology at TCD’s Institute of Molecular Medicine and School of Medicine. This new discovery, which has the potential of assisting the development of new therapies in the treatment of the disease, was published online in ‘Nature Genetics’ (2009). Previous groundbreaking work by key collaborators in the study Prof. Irwin McLean, University of Dundee, and Prof. lan Irvine, Our Lady’s Children Hospital Crumlin and TCD) on Irish children with eczema, had identified that that up to one in two cases of severe eczema in children is associated with mutations in a gene called filaggrin. In this new study the collaborative team has identified an identical genetic mutation mechanism (technically known as a frame-shift mutation) in the mouse strain as was previously identified in children with eczema. Detailed immunological studies on the mouse revealed that this defect in the filaggrin gene leads to a loss of barrier integrity, making the skin more permeable to allergens that eventually leads to the induction of allergic skin inflammation, comparable to that seen in human eczema and related allergic diseases.

Low levels of Vitamin B12 Increase Risk of Spina Bifida

Dr MolloyChildren born to women who have low blood levels of vitamin B12 shortly before and after conception have an increased risk of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. The new findings by researchers at TCD, including first author of the study Dr. Anne Molloy (pictured) of the School of Medicine and co-author Prof. John Scott of the School of Biochemistry and Immunology, the Health Research Board of Ireland and the National Institutes of Health in the USA, were published in the March 2009 issue of ‘Pediatrics’. The neural tube is the embryonic structure that gives rise to the spine and brain. Spina bifida which can cause partial paralysis, and anencephaly where the brain and skull are severely underdeveloped, are the two most common forms of neural tube defects. The study shows that women with the lowest B12 levels during early pregnancy were almost five times more likely to have a child with a neural tube defect compared to women with the highest B12 levels.

New Findings Shed Light on Cause of Cerebral Malaria

Dr O'DonnellA novel pathway that may contribute to the high mortality associated with severe malaria in African children has been identified by researchers from an international collaborative study led by Dr. James O’ Donnell, Director of the Haemostasis Research Group at TCD and St. James’s Hospital. The research recently published in the prestigious publication ‘PLoS Pathogens’ (2009) was funded by the Wellcome Trust and Science Foundation Ireland. In this study, the researchers investigated the significance of this interaction between the infected erythrocytes and the blood vessel wall.

Schizophrenia and Autism Findings

Prof. Michael GillNew research using genome wide techniques have uncovered rare deletions and duplications that occur de novo (not inherited) in some cases of schizophrenia and autism. Researchers from the Neuropsychiatric Genetics Research Group at the Department of Psychiatry have participated in two multicentre studies that have shown that deletions or duplication of a small region containing about 1.34 base pairs of DNA on chromosome 1 occur rarely but more frequently in schizophrenia and autism than in the general population. The same mutations are also found in learning disability and in individuals with a wide range of developmental abnormalities. These findings indicate that the biological mechanisms underlying schizophrenia and autism may overlap in some cases and point clearly to early neurodevelopmental processes. These findings were recently published in the journals 'Nature' (International Schizophrenia Consortium, 2008) and 'The New England Journal of Medicine' (Mefford et al, 2008). Principal investigators from TCD are Dr. Louise Gallagher, Dr. Aiden Corvin and Prof. Michael Gill (pictured).

New Test for Early Detection of Alzheimer's Disease

Prof. Harald Hampel New tests for the early detection of Alzheimer's disease (AD) have been developed by Chair of Psychiatry, Prof. Harald Hampel, based at the Adelaide and Meath Hospital, Incorporating the National Children’s Hospital at Tallaght. Prof. Hampel and his team showed that the biomarker candidates p-tau231 and BACE1, thought to reflect key pathological mechanisms in AD, are dramatically increased in clinically at risk syndrome Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and may thus be an early predictor of AD. The findings were recently published in the leading neuroscience journals ‘Archives of General Psychiatry’, ‘Brain’, and 'Neurology'.

New Genes for Coeliac Disease

Prof. Dermot Kelleher Dr. Con Feighery Dr. Ross McManusCoeliac disease is a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes damaged by exposure to dietary wheat and related cereals. Ireland has one of the highest incidences in the world. New studies involving the joint efforts of researchers in the UK, the Netherlands and Trinity College Dublin have resulted in the identification of 8 new regions of the genome which are linked to susceptibility to coeliac disease development. The first of these to be discovered was the IL2 / IL21 region which was the first identification of a non-MHC gene for this disease and was published in the prestigious journal 'Nature Genetics 2007'. Follow-on studies have revealed a further 7 susceptibility genes also published in 'Nature Genetics 2008'. Trinity researchers led by Dr. Ross McManus with Prof. Con Feighery, Prof. Dermot Kelleher and other Irish researchers contributed to this work which now permits new insights into the mechanism of the disease.

The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA)

Prof. Rose Anne KennyLaunched in November 2006, the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) is the most comprehensive study on ageing in Ireland. It will provide a study of a representative cohort of up to 10,000 Irish people over the age of 50 years charting their health, social and economic circumstances over a 10-year period. TCD is leading the study, which is being undertaken by a cross-institutional, multidisciplinary team of experts from several Irish academic institutions. A group of international scientists advises the TILDA investigators. Rose Anne Kenny, Professor of Geriatric Medicine, Director of the Centre for Successful Ageing at St. James's Hospital is TILDA’s principal investigator. Funding has been provided by the Atlantic Philanthropies and Irish Life.

A New Test for Lung Cancer

Prof. Joseph KeaneUnder the leadership of Prof. Joseph Keane, Director of Research of the School of Medicine, the pulmonary group in St. James's, and the School of Medicine have recently published a new test for lung cancer in 'Nature Medicine'. This test was generated by using samples from over 100 patients with the disease.In collaboration with Boston University, the research team identified 80 genes whose expression in normal airway cells predicts lung cancer elsewhere in the lung with high accuracy. In fact, when combined with bronchoscopy, it improves the sensitivity of that test to 95%.

Irish Healthcare Award for Study on Diabetes

Prof. John NolanDiabetes is costing Ireland close to €600m each year, according to the CODEIRE study led by Prof. John Nolan, consultant endocrinologist and head of the Metabolic Research Unit at St. James's Hospital, which won the overall award at the Irish Healthcare Awards in 2007. Prof. Nolan is the leading diabetes clinical researcher in Ireland. His team is studying the causes of severe insulin resistance, a major forerunner of type 2 diabetes, and recently published a paper on the phenomenon (previously unknown) of complete failure to respond to exercise training, in obese young people with type 2 diabetes. This research was published in the journal 'Diabetologia', and won the top prize for original research at the Irish Doctors Awards in 2007. Prof. Nolan leads a cross-university diabetes research group within the new Dublin Centre for Clinical Research (DCCR), a partnership between Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

The Eczema Gene

Prof. Alan IrvineIn 2007 'Nature Genetics' Paediatric Dermatologist and TCD Associate Professor of Dermatology, Prof. Alan Irvine, in conjunction with Prof. Irwin McLean of the University of Dundee’s College of Medicine, published findings on the genetic mutations associated with childhood eczema, providing a potential major breakthrough in the treatment of eczema. "Having a filaggrin mutation confers a very high risk of eczema – a 45% chance with one filaggrin mutation and a 90% chance with two filaggrin mutation," commented Prof. Irvine. "This new research now provides a target for direct intervention and the development of new therapeutic approaches."

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Last updated 21 September 2016 by Tercentenary (Email).