Four Trinity researchers recipients of HRB Emerging Investigator Awards

The Health Research Board (HRB) emerging investigator awards are designed to create a pipeline of researcher leaders who will improve health, influence clinical practice and inform health policy across a range of areas.

In a highly competitive process, a total of 11 awards were selected by an international panel from 45 eligible applications. Four out of the 11 awards were selected from Trinity.

HRB Emerging Investigators recipients from L to R: Dr Natalia Munoz-Wolf, Dr Kathy Ruddy, Dr Brenda McManus and Dr Sharee Basdeo.

From stroke rehabilitation to diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to tuberculosis, the researchers’ HRB emerging investigator awards acknowledge the high standard of cutting edge world class research at Trinity College.

The recipients were:

  • Dr Brenda McManus,Dublin Dental University Hospital (DDUH)
  • Dr Kathy Ruddy, Trinity Institute of Neurosciences
  • Dr Natalia Munoz-Wolf, School of Medicine, Clinical Medicine, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, Tallaght University Hospital
  • Dr Sharee Basdeo, Trinity Translational Medicine Institute, St James’ Hospital

 

Dr Brenda McManus, Dublin Dental University Hospital

Dr. Brenda McManus from the Dublin Dental University Hospital (DDUH) Division of Oral Biosciences will investigate the role of oro-nasal staphylococcal bacteria in diabetic foot ulcer infections (DFUIs). Staphylococcal bacteria are prevalent in the oro-nasal cavity and gums of patients with gum disease and are the predominant cause of DFUIs, which increase the risk of life-changing lower limb amputations significantly. As the risk of gum disease and foot ulcers are considerably higher in patients with type II diabetes, this research will investigate the impact of oral health in metastatic infection. A detailed understanding of endogenous microbial reservoirs such as the oro-nasal cavity for potential DFUI development is fundamental for identifying new approaches to control and minimise such infection risks.

In addition, this research project will also explore the potential of electrochemically-activated anolyte solutions as an alternative to antibiotic-based treatment for DFUIs. A multidisciplinary research team from DDUH and clinical and research collaborators at St. James’s Hospital and Tallaght University Hospital have developed a comprehensive collaborative research programme with the ultimate aim of minimising the risks for DFUI development and possible resulting lower limb amputation.

Speaking about the importance of the award and what it will mean for her research, she said: “The HRB emerging investigators award has provided me with an exciting opportunity to independently develop my own multidisciplinary area of research which will have a real impact on patient care.“

“The ultimate goal of this research is to positively influence the clinical care provided for patients with type II diabetes and reduce the risk of DFUI-associated lower limb amputations, as these have life-altering consequences for patients and their families.”

Dr Kathy Ruddy, Trinity Institute of Neurosciences

Dr Kathy Ruddy, from the Trinity Institute of Neurosciences is developing a new approach to stroke rehabilitation for the upper limb based on TMS neurofeedback.

By playing a simple computer game, we encourage stroke patients to reconnect with their paralysed limb. Magnetic brain stimulation is used to evoke small twitches in the stroke affected muscles. The game displays the size of these twitches to the patient, and trains them to make them larger. The patient gains a sense of control over their own recovery, by training to improve their brain’s output signals to the muscles using neurofeedback, which we predict may lead to better outcomes for regaining movement function.

Dr Ruddy said: “The HRB Emerging Investigator award will kick start my programme of research into how we can use magnetic brain stimulation in combination with neurofeedback, to promote better recovery outcomes for stroke patients.”

 

Dr Natalia Munoz-Wolf, School of Medicine, Clinical Medicine, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences, Tallaght University Hospital

Dr Natalia Munoz-Wolf is from the School of Medicine, Clinical Medicine, Trinity Centre for Health Sciences. Her research project is entitled: Harnessing the power of the Gut-Lung Axis: How Dietary Short-Chain Fatty Acids Balance Inflammatory Outcomes in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (‘DiSBIO-COPD’)

This project aims to develop new treatments for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a devastating lung condition that is the third cause of death worldwide and affects over half a million people in Ireland. Respiratory infections are common in COPD patients and trigger COPD flare-ups that lead to serious trouble breathing and can be difficult to treat. Excitingly, we have uncovered an intriguing new connection between the microbes in our gut: the gut microbiome, and the way our lungs fight these infections. This project will investigate how this ‘gut-lung connection’ influences infections and flare-ups in COPD. Understanding how an imbalanced gut microbiome affects the lungs in COPD is important so we can develop nutritional approaches to correct this imbalance and ameliorate COPD symptoms. This project holds great potential for the rapid development of low-cost nutritional therapies for management of COPD that could benefit over 250 million people worldwide.

Speaking about the importance of the HRB emerging investigator award for her research, Dr Munoz-Wolf said:

“I’ve always been motivated by the thrill of new discoveries and a strong expectation that my work could make a difference in peoples’ lives. This HRB Emerging Investigator Award will allow me to carry out my research at the forefront of respiratory immunology and microbiome to develop innovative therapies for COPD and other respiratory diseases.”

 

Dr Sharee Basdeo, Trinity Translational Medicine Institute

Dr Sharee Basdeo is an immunologist based in the Trinity Translational Medicine Institute at St James’s Hospital. Her research studies our immune system with the aim of informing the development of new therapies to advance healthcare in Ireland, and across the world. Her particular interest is in the immune response to the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes the disease Tuberculosis (TB).

TB is currently the world’s most deadly infectious disease, killing approximately 1.6 million people annually (1). In Ireland last year we had 315 cases and 8 TB outbreaks, 14 deaths and a striking increase in TB notifications from patients on immunosuppressive therapies for diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (2). This bacteria primarily infects the lungs, causing damage and inflammation which if untreated can be fatal. Normally, a patient is treated with a combination of antibiotics to help them clear the bacteria from their lungs. Alarmingly however, the bacteria is becoming resistant to antibiotics, meaning that new and innovative therapies must be developed to combat this global threat to public health.

Describing her research Dr Basdeo said: “My work aims to develop new ways of combating the bacteria, harnessing the power of a patient’s immune system to defeat the disease. Therefore the aims of my research is two-fold, firstly we must understand the exact mechanism that the human body uses in response to TB. Secondly, we must discover a way to manipulate this mechanism, to promote the clearance of the bacteria and prevent damage to the delicate lung tissue.

And explaining the significance of this award, she commented: ” This will enable me to start my own independent research team, allowing me to prioritise and develop this project further. The grant will also allow me to engage with international collaborators to combine our efforts to take first step to developing new innovative therapies against TB.

In addition to experimental work, this award will also fund more holistic aims such as; public science education, developing the first research network of TB patients in Ireland and making my lab is an early access point to STEM research for young people at risk of educational disadvantage.”

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