Researchers to study infection in cystic fibrosis with prestigious award

A research team from Trinity/St James’s will study ways to correct the defective immunity seen in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. Their research is one of ten successful projects funded by the Health Research Charities Ireland (HRCI) and the Health Research Board (HRB).

The announcement was made today at an event attended by Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly. The project will be led by Professor Joseph Keane at the Trinity College/St James’s Campus in Dublin 8.

For 20 years, Professor Keane’s research group has been studying the immune basis of pneumonia in people infected with drug-resistant bacteria, like tuberculosis, for which antibiotics are not working. The team is currently also addressing the same challenge by studying the lungs of persons with COVID-19. This grant from the IHRC/HRB will address infection in cystic fibrosis.

The team will collaborate with the Professor Ed McKone Group (St Vincent’s Hospital/UCD). The research questions concern the important cystic fibrosis problem of persisting infection with bacteria that do not respond well to antibiotics. These include Mycobacterium abscessus and Pseudomonas infection, which present a massive challenge for people living with cystic fibrosis.

This award comes through the Irish Thoracic Society (ITS), which is a national organisation dedicated to the research of lung conditions such as pneumonia, cystic fibrosis and tuberculosis.

The research group emerged as winners after a rigorous external review from the HRB. This award also aligns with the ITS strategy of providing funding to educate doctors as clinician scientists.  Such activity will underpin the development of the Trinity/St James’s Campus as a so called ‘Academic Medical Centre’.

Dr Mary O’Sullivan and Dr Seonadh O’Leary (both from Trinity) currently train young scientists to address questions of clinical importance at Trinity/St James’s. Both are co-applicants on this award.

Dr Seonadh O’Leary said:

“We’re very excited to be doing this important health research with Professor McKone and his team to further understand persistent infections in CF lungs.”

Dr Mary O’Sullivan added:

“We are delighted to receive this funding from HRCI/HRB, which will support our research to translate discoveries from the laboratory bench to therapies that will directly benefit cystic fibrosis patients.”

The award represents a collaboration with St Vincent’s Hospital/UCD. Professor Ed McKone is a world leader in cystic fibrosis research, and he did the initial work which generated the rationale for this proposal.

The external reviewers recognised St Vincent’s as a cystic fibrosis centre of excellence and commented that breakthroughs from this research might also be applied to other pulmonary conditions, including COVID-19.