~ Research projects will investigate more effective MRSA treatment options, sequence the genome of ‘Atlantic-edge’ populations and explore how the brain regulates access to feelings, perceptions and memories.  ~  
 

Dublin, October 2017 - Science Foundation Ireland, in partnership with Wellcome and the Health Research Board (HRB), today announced Dr Rachel McLoughlin, Professor Daniel Bradley and Professor Mani Ramaswami, all from Trinity College Dublin (TCD), as recipients of 2017 Investigator Awards in Science. The researchers and their teams will receive a total of over €5.55 million in funding for their biomedical research projects. 

The Investigator Awards are one of the most prestigious awards made under the partnership and will support Dr McLoughlin’s research to help improve antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) treatment options, Prof Bradley’s exploration into our genetic history, which will include discovering the origin of inherited diseases, and Prof Ramaswami’s investigation of how the brain regulates access to feelings, perceptions and memories. 

Commenting on the awards, Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland said: “The SFI-HRB-Wellcome partnership recognises the most outstanding biomedical researchers and the most innovative research programmes. Today’s investment will progress the discoveries by Dr Rachel McLoughlin, Prof Daniel Bradley and Prof Mani Ramaswami and their teams, while also embedding world-class biomedical research here in Ireland.  Science Foundation Ireland is committed to supporting Irish researchers, thus ensuring that Ireland continues to lead the way in scientific research and development.” 

Dr Mairead O’Driscoll, Interim Chief Executive at the HRB added, “You’re competing with some of the world’s best when you apply for Wellcome funding. So, these awards are a ringing endorsement of Profs Bradley, Ramaswami and Dr McLoughlin. In the case of Dr McLoughlin, we are delighted that she can build on her previous HRB-funded work in the area of MRSA and the search for a vaccine for the superbug. I wish them all every success in their endeavours.” 

 

Dr Rachel McLoughlin (School of Biochemistry and Immunology, TCD) is a pioneer in the interactions between the human immune system and Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus). Understanding these interactions is necessary for the development of alternative treatment options to antibiotics for S. aureus infections. Dr McLoughlin will investigate mechanisms that might allow MRSA to suppress or avoid detection by the immune system. These defence mechanisms may ‘train’ the immune system, making it unable to respond to vaccines designed to boost the immune response to an S. aureus infection. The research project will develop strategies to overcome or neutralise this ‘training’ to improve the vaccine’s effectiveness. 

Dr Rachel McLoughlin said: “The SFI-HRB-Wellcome Investigator Award will help us to develop treatment strategies for MRSA. This is not only positive for treatment of the bacterium which has a serious impact on a patient’s medical outcome, but it also means we are further developing Irish research skills in immunology.  The award will enable me to expand my research programme at Trinity College Dublin and enhance my reputation as a leader in my field. It will allow me to now provide training to a team of postgraduate and postdoctoral trainees. I am honoured to be supported by the programme.” 

Prof Daniel Bradley (Smurfit Institute of Genetics, TCD) will lead a project to sequence hundreds of thousands of human genomes to better understand the genetic aspects of disease. The project will build on findings that the petrous bone, the hardest bone in the body, can act like a time capsule, excellently preserving DNA over thousands of years. The research will sequence full genomes from 160 bones sampled throughout the whole of Ireland and Portuguese prehistory. A complete genomic history will create a greater understanding of genetic factors in disease and pinpoint newly discovered genetic differences which could impact modern patients. 

Dr Daniel Bradley said: “The SFI-HRB-Wellcome Investigator Award will allow us to sequence the genomes of ancient Irish humans, giving an almost complete genetic history of the people of this island, including the origins of important diseases. It will also enable us to compete in this very fast-moving scientific discipline and allow us to train the next generation of Irish genome scientists.” 

Prof Mani Ramaswami (Smurfit Institute of Genetics, and Director, Institute of Neuroscience, TCD) is investigating the process by which the brain regulates access to memories stored in the brain for retrieval at appropriate times. Perceptions and memories are represented in the brain by the positive activity of assemblies of excitatory neurons. It is proposed that negative representations of these assemblies are created by the brain to prevent inappropriate activation. Prof Ramaswami will study the construction of negative representations, their effects and regulation by environmental or behavioural context in fruit flies, who share key structure of their brain circuits with humans. This research has clinical implications as issues with memory encoding, recall and habituation are associated with psychiatric conditions. 

Prof Mani Ramaswami said: “This award allows us to pursue a fundamental new discovery that emerged from our previous SFI-funded work. The idea that the brain forms and uses inhibitory replicas of neural patterns encoding information or memories, originally suggested by our work in fruit flies, is now supported by independent work on humans done by my colleagues and co-authors in Oxford. We now have the opportunity to analyse how inhibitory replicas form in the brain and are dynamically regulated to allow appropriate behaviour. The SFI-HRB-Wellcome Investigator Award will support interactions with outstanding scientists and institutions in India, USA and the UK that will provide valuable new opportunities for students and young scientists in Ireland.  It will also give us a platform from which to explore how and whether these processes are affected in human psychiatric conditions." 

The SFI-HRB-Wellcome Biomedical Research Partnership has funded biomedical research in the Republic of Ireland since 2010. The partnership supports outstanding researchers and innovative research programmes in biomedical research. The vision of Wellcome is to achieve extraordinary improvements in human and animal health.