Researchers, led by Prof Paul Moynagh, in the Institute of Immunology at NUI Maynooth are identifying new proteins in our bodies that play key roles in controlling inflammatory diseases. Prof Moynagh and his team have spent the last number of years revealing the importance of a specific protein named Pellino 3. Through examination of clinical samples from patients, the team have discovered that the levels of Pellino 3 are greatly reduced in inflammatory diseases like Crohn’s Disease and in obesity. The results suggest Pellino 3 has a protective role in these conditions and presents an attractive target for future therapeutics, a huge breakthrough in our understanding of currently incurable conditions like Crohn’s disease and obesity-associated diseases. Prof. Moynagh is currently working with the drug delivery developers, Sigmoid Pharma, to translate this research into the development of new drugs for these diseases.
Dr Maria Daniela Angione in Trinity College Dublin is working on new electronic sensing technology to be used in cutting edge electronic–biological interfaces for diagnostic tools. These devices aim to achieve efficient detection of microbial or viral pathogens in patient samples, allowing for more accurate detection of bacterial versus viral infections. With the steady rise of antibiotic resistance, this new technology will be invaluable to the medical community for prescribing more targeted medicine and reducing the reliance on broad spectrum antibiotics.
University College Cork based geneticist Prof John Atkins is striping biomedical research back to one of its most basic levels, RNA. Investigating the role of RNA and a phenomenon known as ‘decoding’ which products protein by-product with potential use in medical therapeutics. Prof Atkins team is also looking at the overlap of genes in the genetic profile of common viruses, looking for common features between the pathogens.The cell membrane is a thin but highly fluid layer comprised mostly of fats and proteins that acts like a skin enclosing all of the body’s cells and each cell contains countless membranes that sheath the organelles of the cell. These membranes are semi-permeable forming a natural barrier between the interior of the cell and its external environment and they play a key role in regulating very precisely the passage of substances into and out of the cell.
When a drug is administered to a patient it encounters many such membrane structures within the body on the way to its target and the ability of a given drug to interact with and cross these membranes is a critical consideration in drug development. Furthermore, many of the proteins in the body targeted by new drugs reside at the cell and organelle membranes. Dublin City University’s Prof Tia Keyes has developed advanced new models of the cell membrane which can be used to replicate key aspects of the natural membrane structure. These models can be exploited to enhance pre-clinical testing of new therapeutics where they can provide insights into drug-membrane permeability and potential toxicity. In addition, they can advance our understanding of the behaviour of cell membrane proteins by allowing their study in a native-like environment but away from the complexity of the living cell.
Prof David Henshall’s laboratory, at the Royal College of Surgeons, is interested in the reason behind and possible treatment of chronic and rare brain diseases, with a particular focus on epilepsy. The team is investigating the cell and molecular mechanisms behind the disease both in adults and children. Usingexperimental models and clinical samples, they hope to identify targets for new therapeutic approaches. Based on previous genomic profiling work, the highly successful team has also developed the first database for microRNA bio-markers and epilepsy. These incredibly useful small strands of RNA are used to identify biological conditions in a patient’s genomeand also represent potential targets for drugs in the future.
According to the World Health Organisation vaccination saves approximately 2.5 million lives each year. In order to obtain an effective immune response to a vaccine, compounds known as adjuvants are added to the formula. Unfortunately, common adjuvants such as Alum are not optimal in the case of key global challenges, for instance HIV and TB as well as for cancer vaccines. Prof Ed Lavelle and his team in Trinity College Dublin are working on new approaches to this problem including the use of nanotechnology to design novel particle based systems. The aim of their work is to develop new vaccine combinations that will elicit stronger cellular immune responses and help in the development of new and improved vaccines.
Prof Oliver Dolly is well regarded for his seminalwork into the function and mode of action of Botulinum neurotoxins (BOTOX). Having established the International Centre for Neurotherapeutics in Dublin City University, Prof Dolly and his team have been working on the generation of novel, long-acting biotherapeutics to relieve chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain. Previous successful uses for the drug, underpinned by Prod Dolly’s work include, movement disorders, as well as neuronal abnormalities of secretory glands, over-active bladder and gastrointestinal tract.
The concept of cellular therapy has been around for a long time, however in the last number of years’ scientists have been more extensively examining the possibilities available. The field of Stem Cell Therapy is of particular interest to Dr Karen English and her team at Maynooth University. Using stem cells isolated from human bone marrow, Dr English has been examining their ability to reduce inflammation and dampen down immune responses. Properties which are highly desirable for treatment of conditions associated with inappropriate immune responses such as graft versus host disease (GvHD) or fibrotic lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or pulmonary fibrosis.
It is well known that the development of new drugs is a long and expensive process. Typically, the drug discovery process consists of three stages, the “molecule stage” involves using medicinal chemistry techniques to find a lead compound. Next, in the “material stage” the lead compound goes through pre-formulation to turn it into a drug substance, usually a solid with properties suitable for use in a medicine. Lastly, the “medicine stage” takes the drug substance and combines it with inactive ingredients which control its release in the body. Ranked in 2011 as being among the top 20 most impactful research chemists in the world, Prof Michael Zaworotko, at the University of Limerick, is working to make better medicines by improving the properties of drug substances, particularly lithium based drugs and those used to treat neglected tropical diseases. His long standing work on crystal engineering means he currently holds ten patents and a further 10 are pending.
Prof Leonie Young is an associate professor in the Department of Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons and is focusing her research on breast cancer treatment. Dr Young is looking at the cell cycle of breast cancer cells and the regulation of receptors currently used in chemotherapeutic treatment. The aim of this research is to develop markers to predict the sensitivity of these receptors and look to develop new therapeutic targets. In 2010, Professor Young co-founded the National Breast Cancer Bioresource, looking to standardise the collection of breast cancer material throughout the country. To date they have collected over 1000 samples as well as corresponding clinical data both of which will prove invaluable to future understanding of the condition.