President of Ireland Michael D Higgins, has honoured four Trinity College researchers as recipients of the SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Awards at a special ceremony in Áras an Uachtaráin, Dublin. The awards recognise all four as “research leaders with exceptional accomplishments in scientific and engineering domains”.
The SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Programme recruits and retains outstanding and emerging early career research leaders. Today’s awards recognise research areas in Trinity focusing on traumatic brain injury, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, frailty in ageing and cultivating seaweed to harness products for bioengineering and biofuels.
The successful awardees are:
- Assistant Professor Suzanne Cloonan, School of Medicine, Trinity
- Assistant Professor David Loane, School of Biochemistry, Trinity
- Assistant Professor Nessa O’Connor, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity
- Professor Roman Romero-Ortuno, Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) and Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing (MISA), Trinity
Speaking on the announcement, Professor Linda Doyle, Dean of Research, Trinity College said:
The SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leader Awards are crucial in attracting talent to Ireland. We are incredibly proud of the four academics who have come to Trinity through this scheme. Suzanne Cloonan, David Loane, Nessa O’Connor and Roman Romero-Ortuno have already demonstrated strong leadership in their fields. The research they do will have real impact on people’s lives and I am excited to see what they will accomplish as a result of the support of this scheme. Programmes like this are an essential part of creating a balanced research ecosystem, and the broad range of projects that have been supported this year shows the need to ensure that more funding continues to be made available to individual researchers. I extend my sincere congratulations to all this year’s Future Research Leaders.
As a strong supporter of the sciences and advocate for equal access to learning for all members of our society, President Higgins has for many years promoted the positive contribution made by our creative and innovative scientists. The President continues to recognise the important role science has in empowering people to explore, innovate and collaborate for a better future.
The successful Trinity awardees are:
Assistant Professor Suzanne Cloonan, School of Medicine, Trinity (award value €1,587,525)
Title of research: The “Ironome” of the Lung and Disease Pathogenesis
On receiving the SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders award Dr Suzanne Cloonan said:
I am delighted and honoured to receive this prestigious award. It has allowed me to develop a cutting-edge interdisciplinary research programme at Trinity College Dublin, to understand and develop new treatment approaches for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a debilitating chronic lung disease that remains the fourth leading cause of death in Ireland. This work will not only place Ireland on the map for world-class COPD research but will also raise much needed awareness for COPD and COPD-related research.
Research summary: As the fourth leading cause of death in Ireland, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) remains an incurable, inflammatory lung disease that is hard to diagnose early and has few therapeutic treatment options. Work from the Cloonan laboratory has identified that iron metabolism pathways are dysregulated in the lungs of COPD patients and that targeting these pathways may hold promise for the development of new therapies for COPD. In particular, the Cloonan lab will decipher where in the lung this iron accumulates and how this excess of iron may promote the growth of bad bacteria rendering COPD patients more susceptible to infections. AstraZeneca is an industry collaborator on this project.
Assistant Professor David Loane, School of Biochemistry, Trinity (award value: €1,587,818)
Title of research: NOX2 and the chronic pathologies of traumatic brain injury (TBI) – Integrating basic and translational research to improve TBI outcomes
Dr David Loane is researching traumatic brain injury and sustained brain inflammation linked to dementia and chronic neurodegeneration. He welcomed the award saying:
I am delighted to receive the SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders Award. It has enabled me to set up a state-of-the-art experimental brain injury lab in Trinity College Dublin to investigate fundamental questions about brain health and functional recovery after traumatic neural injury. It also allows me to recruit talented international researchers to Ireland and train the next generation of young scientists and research leaders in the frontier field of neuroimmunology.
Summary: Traumatic brain injury (TBI) has been linked to dementia and chronic neurodegeneration. Described initially in professional boxers and currently recognised across high contact sports (e.g. American Football, Rugby Union), the association between repeated concussion (mild TBI) and progressive neuropsychiatric abnormalities has received widespread media coverage. The role of sustained brain inflammation has received less attention, even though this association has been established pathologically since the 1950s. These pathological mechanisms, manifested by extensive microglial activation, may be among the most important causes of posttraumatic neurodegeneration. Identifying the causes of chronic microglial activation following TBI may allow the development of novel biomarkers and therapeutic strategies for TBI and its related dementias.
Assistant Professor Nessa O’Connor, School of Natural Sciences, (award value: €1,374,384)
Title: Beyond biofuel: Advanced seaweed cultivation for marine biodiscovery and climate change mitigation
On receiving the prestigious award Dr Nessa O’Connor said:
I am truly honoured to receive this award and immensely excited to continue our work with a growing team in Trinity. We will use ecological knowledge to unlock the potential of Ireland’s marine resources. By cultivating seaweed to harness products for bioengineering and biofuels, we will be helping to develop new tools for the treatment of debilitating diseases, such as osteoarthritis, while also combating climate change by enhancing carbon sequestration and also enriching local coastal habitats.
Research summary: Improving human health and discovering new sources of clean energy are among the most pressing challenges we face as a society. We can tackle such challenges by exploring the potential of marine bioresources. We will identify new methods of growing seaweed (aquaculture) to harness alginate for the treatment of osteoarthritis while also harnessing biofuels. We will also test whether cultivated seaweed can protect shellfish from expected changes in ocean chemistry. Seaweed aquaculture offers vast opportunities to mitigate and adapt to climate change and we will quantify the potential role of seaweed farming, thus, transitioning to a low-carbon and climate-resilient society.
Professor Roman Romero-Ortuno, Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) and Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing (MISA), Trinity (award value: €1,525,970)
Title: FRAILMatics: Mathematical research and big data analytics towards the development of the next generation of transdisciplinary diagnostics for the assessment of physiological vulnerability in older adults: challenge-based disruptive technology initiative
On receiving the prestigious award Associate Professor Roman Romero-Ortuno said:
I am delighted to have received this SFI President of Ireland Future Research Leaders award. This makes me immensely proud as an academic geriatrician and I thank SFI for recognising the crucial importance of investment in interdisciplinary ageing research. As a clinician scientist, this award will enable me to build the human and computational capability to investigate a highly complex issue that is of immense importance to our ageing society.
Research summary: Increasing numbers of older people live with frailty. A frail person is vulnerable to complications from illnesses or medical procedures. Early recognition of frailty could prevent or delay poor outcomes, but diagnostics to recognise early frailty are limited. The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA) has collected detailed information on participants’ health by monitoring body systems, including under stress conditions. TILDA offers the opportunity to mine this unexplored “big data”. We aim to discover new frailty signals/models, confirm them in real patients, and pave the way towards smart devices that could detect early frailty, helping achieve longer lives without disability.