Trinity researchers win distinguished IRC Advanced Laureate Awards

Posted on: 12 December 2023

Seven researchers across a range of disciplines at Trinity have been announced as successful applicants to the Irish Research Council (IRC) Advanced Laureate Awards (ALA) programme.

Trinity researchers win distinguished IRC Advanced Laureate Awards

The IRC’s Advanced Laureate Awards (ALAs) support established research leaders who have a record of original and significant research contributions to carry forward ground-breaking discoveries at the frontiers of knowledge in their respective fields. The research projects at Trinity have been selected for funding following a rigorous review by international experts. Each awardee will receive up to €1 million in funding over a period of up to four years.

The Advanced Laureate Awards programme was introduced in 2018 to support exceptional researchers in conducting frontier basic (blue-sky) research that pushes the boundaries of our current knowledge.   

Trinity’s Dean of Research Sinéad Ryan commented:

"I am delighted to see excellent research across Trinity’s three faculties being recognised and supported by these IRC Laureate Awards. These research projects will advance human knowledge in exciting ways; they also contribute to our research ecosystem here at Trinity, and it is wonderful to see our researchers below speak so warmly about their colleagues and with such enthusiasm for working with the generation of researchers to come. Research is truly at the heart of what Trinity does."

Provost Linda Doyle congratulated the awardees saying: 

“I am really proud of this stellar group of researchers who have been successful in the IRC Advanced Laureate Awards programme.

The funding of talented people and their creative research ideas is so hugely important. 

I am also delighted to see such a spread of disciplines represented among the awardees, ranging from psychology to immunometabolism, history to gerontology, neuroscience and neurogenetics.”


The successful applicants from Trinity in the Advanced Laureate Awards programme are:

Professor Mani Ramaswami (Neurogenetics)

Project: TUNINGMEMORY - Molecular tuning of thresholds for translational control and long-term memory

Summary: Events can be remembered for different periods of time: minor annoyances are soon forgotten, traumatic events remembered for many years. This project will attempt to genetically tune the sensitivity of a specific molecular step controlling experience-induced protein synthesis in brain cells, and test whether this causes a parallel change if stimulus thresholds required for encoding stable memory.  Extraordinary new understanding of wiring patterns of neurons that encode olfactory associative memories in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, as well as technical advances that allow genomes and activities of identified neurons to be selectively manipulated and monitored in vivo, uniquely enable the range of experiments required for this investigation.

Mani said:

 “I am delighted that the IRC will fund our project to explore and potentially establish molecular mechanisms of memory.  This support will energize and drive the most adventurous aspects of our research, which were stifled by constraints associated with the pandemic.  However, my enthusiasm is tempered by regret that the IRC Laureate awards, being so few in number, have not been able to support several of my outstanding and equally deserving colleagues.   I hope Ireland’s new funding agency will be configured to allow expression of the full range of talent in our university system and make us a truly competitive force in global research and innovation.”


David Finlay, Associate Professor in Immunometabolism 

Project: 4D+ MetaFlux - Multidimensional single cell in vivo metabolic flux analyses: Resolving immune cells based on metabolic activities at the site of disease.

Summary: Cellular metabolism, the process of using different fuels to make energy or the building blocks to make new cell components, is an attractive drug target to therapeutically alter immune responses. A big barrier in achieving this is that immune cell metabolism measured in the lab is often not reflective of the metabolism of that cell at the site of disease, where it counts. Also, many metabolic analyses require large number of cells to get a metabolic reading, but immune cells at the site of disease are not present in these numbers. With our new approach, termed 4D-MetaFlux, we are developing and applying state-of-the-art and accurate metabolic analyses to allow multiple metabolic analyses on single immune cells in diseases including infection, cancer and traumatic brain injury. Through generating accurate metabolic footprints for every individual immune cell at the site of disease, we will pave the way towards new, accurate and effective therapies targeting immune cell metabolism.

David said:

“With this award we want to pave the way for new and improved immunotherapies. Using our new technology we plan to build an accurate picture of how immune cells are fuelled as they respond to different immunological confrontations, ranging from bacterial infection to age related macular degeneration, from tumours to traumatic head injuries. In this way we can understand for the first time the metabolic pressures exerted on immune cells at these sites of disease and answer questions about why immune cells become dysfunctional. This work is possible thanks to collaboration across multiple faculties here at Trinity College Dublin.”

Fiona Newell, Professor Of Experimental Psychology

Project: Project Tactome - Sensory and predictive coding in tactile object perception and memory

Summary: Touch is one of the most important human sensory systems: our basic survival often relies on having a sense of touch. Touch is a complex sense, which can be appreciated by the range of perceptions determined from basic sensations on the skin, from feeling the keys in our pocket, judging the freshness of a loaf of bread, to hugging our loved ones. Yet, relative to vision and hearing, little is known about this sense. Indeed, whilst both our eyesight and hearing can be tested on the high street, this is not the case for touch, despite its fundamental importance to everyday life. This project will investigate how our sense of touch perceives the things that we pick up and use every day. Furthermore, we will investigate how touch works when information from other senses is available, such as hearing the rattle sound of the keys we are feeling in our pocket, and what happens to our sense of touch as we age.

Fiona said:

“Touch is one of the most important human sensory systems: our basic survival often relies on having a sense of touch. Yet, relative to vision and hearing, little is known about this sense. Touch is, however, a complex sense in that the brain can receive multiple sources of tactile information at any one time, making it challenging for neuroscientists to investigate. In this context, I am excited about this award as it will allow me the opportunity to contribute towards a better understanding of how the human brain perceives the shapes and materials that we handle every day.”


Pictured left to right: Dr Cathal McCrory (Medical Gerontology), Dr Colm Cunningham (Neuroscience), Dr Anne Dolan (History) and Prof. Micheál O'Siochrú (History)

Dr Anne Dolan (History)

Project WITNESSING - Witnessing war, making peace: testimonies of revolution and restraint in inter-war Ireland

Summary: Despite a war of independence (1919-21) and civil war (1922-23), Ireland’s experience of violence was relatively restrained compared to much of inter-war Europe and it returned to stability remarkably quickly.  Eric Hobsbawm noted the Irish Free State as one of only five European states, new or old, where ‘adequately democratic institutions continued to function’ between the wars.  What we still do not know is why.  This project explains why Ireland was so relatively restrained in its use of violence during and after its revolution, and in doing so, it will establish new paradigms for exploring the history of violence and pioneer the history of a much less considered phenomenon – restraint.  To do this it draws on the testimony of those who have been largely overlooked: the bystanders who witnessed violence in Ireland, who first put experiences of violence into words, and who fundamentally shaped what we can know about it now. 

 Anne said:

“Funding of this kind for a history project will fundamentally change the scale and scope of what can be achieved.  My project, ‘Witnessing war, making peace’, simply could not be undertaken without it.  This is a really exciting opportunity to think about modern Ireland in new ways and to work collaboratively with historians of Ireland and Europe on a project that will help to launch the careers of some exceptional young historians.”


Professor Micheál Ó Siochrú (History)

Project:  EMPIRE: Cromwellian Ireland and the transformation of the English Atlantic world

Summary: The EMPIRE project will explore Ireland’s crucial role in England’s (and later Britain’s) global expansion. The mid-eighteenth century witnessed Britain’s emergence as the foremost power in the Western World, enjoying unparalleled wealth, influence, and geographical reach. But how did it obtain such an exalted position and more specifically, what were the processes that facilitated such a dramatic rise to prominence? This question lies at the heart of the EMPIRE project. Challenging the dominant, Anglo-centric narrative, this project takes a radically different approach, investigating how from the mid-seventeenth century, Ireland provided England with a decisive advantage over its continental rivals on the world stage. Irish historiography focuses primarily on the Irish diaspora in the emerging English Atlantic Empire, but EMPIRE will instead turn the spotlight on the country, rather than its people, as the significant source of finance and resources driving England’s expansion overseas and its global dominance thereafter.

Micheál said:

‘I am delighted to receive this IRC Advanced Laureate award, which provides an exciting opportunity to reinterpret Ireland’s global role in the seventeenth century, exploiting a range of newly accessible material and data. This period witnessed England’s (and then Britain’s) gradual emergence as the foremost power in the Western World, enjoying unparalleled wealth, influence, and geographical reach. But how did it obtain such an exalted position? This question lies at the heart of the EMPIRE project, which argues that Irish resources provided England/Britain with a decisive advantage over its continental rivals on the world stage. In fact, the Cromwellian conquest and subsequent exploitation of Ireland in the 1650s underpinned the entire imperial project.’


Dr Colm Cunningham (Neuroscience)

Project: SysTemADx4 – Episodic systemic TNF alpha escalates brain inflammation and disrupts bioenergetic and cognitive function at the interface of dementia and delirium

Summary: In recent years it has emerged that inflammation outside the brain, as arises during fractures, infections and event COVID-19, can lead to problems inside the brain. The sorts of events all lead to the production of an inflammatory molecule called TNF alpha, which is therefore elevated in many separate ‘episodes’ across the lifespan and especially in older age. This can produce new psychiatric symptoms, like delirium, but may also accelerate the development of dementia. In this project, Colm and his team will explore the effects of this molecule, TNF alpha, on brain function and brain injury. In particular the team will examine the idea that each ‘episode’ of inflammation has knock-on effects for how the brain and specific brain cell types, will respond to subsequent inflammatory episodes. In this way the team will be able to investigate the immediate and the cumulative consequences of such episodic inflammatory events, focussing on this key inflammatory molecule that is common among infections, fractures and other age-related insults.


Colm said:

"I am absolutely thrilled to receive this award from the IRC. The Laureate Award Scheme has supported some brilliant Irish researchers in its few short years and I feel very honoured to have been awarded one of these to investigate how inflammatory molecules in the blood, like TNF alpha, can drive neuropsychiatric symptoms like delirium and perhaps drive dementia. 
Delirium in particular is quite neglected and, I think, has fallen through the cracks between more strategically-motivated funding streams, but how the brain and the immune system interact is going to become more and more important so its wonderful to have IRC support to make inroads into questions about those interactions."

Dr Cathal McCrory (Medical Gerontology)

Project: Socio-Omics - A longitudinal investigation of DNA methylation as a mediator of socio-economic variation in health and longevity.  

Summary: Poorer people live fewer years on average compared with wealthier people. The reasons for this are complex but include lower income, job insecurity, higher levels of stress, and behavioural factors. However, we still lack an adequate understanding of the precise cellular and molecular mechanisms through which social inequalities gets translated into biological inequalities. The ‘Soci-Omics’ project will integrate data from childhood, adulthood, and twin cohorts to provide new insights regarding how the experience of social disadvantage over the life course manifests as earlier disease onset and premature mortality.

Cathal said:

“I am delighted that the Irish Research Council has chosen to support this important interdisciplinary project which will help inform the development of healthy ageing strategies and policies to reduce social inequalities over the life span.”

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