Health research, from molecules to patients, at DCU

Director of Research Support Dr Ana M Terres notes the importance of health research and the strides being achieved by researchers at Dublin City University

Health is one of the cornerstones of the research and innovation activity at Dublin City University. Even in the absence of a medical school, health related publications represent a quarter of the overall university journal article output, and nearly 5% of the overall national output according to Scopus data. The activity is encompassed into 4 broad domains: Health technologies, molecular and biological mechanisms of health and disease, health and wellbeing interventions, and health service and systems research.

Health Technologies Research

From molecular neurotherapeutics for pain to pharmaceutical bioprocessing improvements, through to connected health interventions and sensor web technologies, the range of healthcare innovations for a healthy society developed at DCU is fairly comprehensive. DCU hosts the first Irish Fraunhofer Project Centre for Embedded BioAnalytical Systems, in which ‘Lab on a chip technologies’ have a wide range of applications including the development of point of care diagnostic devices to enable personalised healthcare. An initial investment of €5M co-founded by Science Foundation Ireland and Fraunhofer, and led by Prof. Jens Ducree, will focus on applied solutions that can readily translate to the market place. DCU has an established track record for the application of smart molecules and materials as sensors for health applications (Prof. Robert Forster, Tia Keyes, Dermot Diamond, Richard Kennedy, etc), much of which will represent the basic science pipeline which will complement the more applied research and innovation activities at the Fraunhofer project centre.

At the DCU International Centre for Neurotherapeutics, Prof. Oliver Dolly is developing the next generation of biotherapeutics to treat chronic pain. His approach involves molecularly engineered modifications of the botulinum toxin which actively inhibits neuro exocytosis of neurotransmitters involved in the transmission of pain. These potent molecules have been proven to have prolonged relief of neuropathic pain in rodents and will be tested in clinical trials in the very near future.

Other novel approaches to health improvements at DCU, to name a few, include the development of plasma technologies for hospital acquired infections and the development of stem cell therapies for ocular disease.  Biomarker discovery and biopharmaceuticals production is also a strong research area at the DCU National Institute of Cellular Biotechnology, where one of the strands lead by Prof. Martin Clynes and Dr Paula Meleady focuses on improving the production of protein based biopharmaceuticals in bioreactors in order to lead to more efficient and cheaper processes and, in turn, greater accessibility for patients.

DCU bio-mechanical engineering expertise also contributes to advances in health research. Examples include Prof. Nicholas Dunne’s research, which focuses on the development of biomaterials for drug delivery as well as biomaterials for orthopaedic applications. Or, Prof. Owen Clarken’s work on hydrogel based composite materials for the treatment of vascular diseases, including cerebral aneurysms and other cardiovascular conditions.

Molecular and biological mechanisms of health and disease

A significant body of work focuses on immunomodulation and the regulatory immune responses associated with a number of health conditions. Prof. Sandra O’Neill’s work studies the immune response to worm parasites and aims to discover potential vaccine candidates to protect against helminth infections. The immune response associated with infection by the influenza virus is the focus of Prof. Patricia Johnston while Prof. Christine Loscher’s research concentrates on the impact of nutritional compounds and food in the immune system, in order to understand the molecular mechanisms of actions with a view of using these natural products to modulate inflammation in a number of immune-mediated diseases.

Prof. Anne Parle-McDermot’s research focuses on the understanding of folate nutrition for human health. By using a combination of genetics, genomics, biochemistry, and cell biology the group aims to understand the importance of folate from pregnancy to ageing with a view to help prevention, diagnosis, and the treatment of common conditions associated with folate deficiency.

The molecular and biological mechanisms of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and associated conditions are also the focus of much activity. Prof. Paul Cahil aims to find novel targets for therapeutic applications for CVD by focusing on specific intracellular signalling pathways in the endothelial cells. Prof. Phil Cummins is involved in a US-Ireland partnership which brings together a unique set of expertise to develop a gene therapy for diabetic retinopathy, a widespread complication of diabetes.

Disease prevention, Health and wellbeing

Research within this theme is mainly carried out in the Schools of Health and Human Performance (SHHP), Nursing and Human Sciences (SNHS), and Biotechnology.

Much of the research at the SHHP focuses on the understanding of the mechanisms by which exercise can be used to prevent disease and improve life expectancy and recovery in patients suffering from chronic illnesses, such as cancer, CVC, or diabetes. Prof. Kieran Moran leads an EU funded collaborative project that aims to provide individual technology enabled exercise programmes to promote cardiac rehabilitation. This is done through the provision of an internet-enabled sensor-based local exercise platform which allows participation in the programme from the comfort of their own home. Prof. Ronan Murphy’s team is trying to unravel how genetics, diet, and exercise can be used to manage chronic illness, while Prof. Donal O’Gorman’s research focus is on the impact of exercise on the regulation of energy metabolism in the body, key information to understand how diabetes may be prevented and alternatively treated.

Since 2006, and based on this vast expertise, the university runs MedEx Wellness, a novel community-based chronic illness rehabilitation programme which is one of the largest programmes of its kind in Europe. Located in the University Sports facilities, it offers medically supervised exercise classes and educational workshops on nutrition to patients with a range of chronic illnesses.

Research in the SNHS spans many areas of health and well-being, including children’s public health (Prof. Anthony Staines), dementia and positive ageing (Prof. Kate Irving), mental health (Profs. Evelyn Gordon and Liam MacGabhann) and behavioural neuroscience (Profs. Teresa Burke, Lorraine Boran and Sinead Smyth), nutrition and exercise (Prof. Mary Rose Sweeney), health and sexuality (Prof. Mel Duffy), ethical issues and healthcare (Profs. Donal O’Mathuna and Bert gordijn), and living well with illness and disability (Profs. Pamela Gallagher, Veronica Lambert and Gemma Kiernan). Between 2014 and 2017 nearly 7% of nursing related publications from DCU were in the top 1% most cited publications worldwide, vs a national average of 1.9%.

Health Systems and health service research

Health Systems research at the SNHS, lead by Prof. Anthony Staines, Anne Matthews, and Pamela Hussey, centres around a variety of topics, such as eHealth, with a view to support integrated health and social care, health workforce planning and intelligence, as well as evidence based practice. At DCU Business School, Prof. Regina Connolly has significant expertise in healthcare technology impact assessment, as well as in eHealth Business model development, and is the lead investigator in several Ambient Healthcare Technology research projects.

Dr Ana M Terres

Director of Research Support

Dublin City University

Tel: +353 700 7011

ana.terres@dcu.ie

www.dcu.ie/research/index.shtml

www.twitter.com/anamterres

Please note: this is a commercial profile

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