Background
PROF LUKE O'NEILL

Eleven researchers based in Irish universities have been ranked among the world’s top 3,000 by the multinational media body Thompson Reuters. Inclusion means the person’s research is listed in the top 1 per cent for the number of times their work has been cited by other scientists.

The list includes scientists and engineers in NUI GalwayTrinity College Dublin,University College DublinUniversity of LimerickUniversity College CorkBeaumont Hospital, Dublin and the University of Ulster.

All were gauged to be “highly cited researchers” who had had an “exceptional impact”, Thompson Reuters said.

Their work “has consistently been judged by peers to be of particular significance and utility”, the company said when releasing the list on the website highlycited.com.

Those selected will also be published in book form, the Thompson Reuters 2014 World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds.

Cutting edge

Inclusion in this publication means the researcher is among those “who are on the cutting edge of their fields. They are performing and publishing work that their peers recognise as vital to the advancement of their science”.

NUI Galway had three academics on the list: Henry Curran (engineering), Colin O’Dowd (geosciences) and Donal O’Regan (mathematics).

TCD had two: Luke O’Neill (immunology and also pharmacology and toxicology) and Jonathan Coleman (materials science).

UCD also had two: Colm O’Donnell (agricultural sciences) and Desmond Higgins (computer science).

UL had Michael Zaworotko (chemistry), UCC had John Cryan (pharmacology and toxicology), Beaumont Hospital had Mary Cannon (psychiatry and psychology) and University of Ulster had Brendan McCormack (social sciences).

The use of citation listings as a measure of research quality has sometimes been drawn into question but it remains a widely used metric despite this. Its strength lies in the fact that it reflects later access of the research by scientists working in the same area. If your paper is truly cutting edge then others will want to cite the original work within their research papers.

‘Huge testament’

Prof O’Neill yesterday expressed his delight at having been named on the list. “Being included in the top 1 per cent of anything is great,” he said. He described it as a “huge testament” to the work of his research team over the past decade.

Prof Coleman also praised the students and post doctoral researchers who work with him in the lab, and thanked funding bodies including TCD and Science Foundation Ireland. “Without them this would have been impossible,” he said.

Neural Stem Cells
Stem cells can be manufactured for human use for the first time in Ireland, following Irish Medicines Board licensing of a new facility in Galway.

NUI Galway’s Centre for Cell Manufacturing Ireland aims to culture adult stem cells to tackle conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, diabetes and associated conditions.

The centre, which is one of less than half a dozen in Europe authorised for stem cell manufacture, has been developed by researchers at NUIG’s regenerative medicine institute.

Stem cells serve as the body’s repair mechanism. They can be isolated from tissues such as bone marrow and fat, and cultured in laboratory settings.

More controversially, embryonic stem cells have been highly valued for their ability to turn into any type of cell in the body, but scientists can now use reprogrammed adult skin cells to create a stem cell that is very similar to embryonic versions.

The centre will be opened today by Minister of State for Research and Innovation Seán Sherlock, at a time when the Health Research Board and Science Foundation Ireland have approved funding there for clinical trials on using mesenchymal stem cells – cells that can differentiate into a variety of types – for treatment of critical limb ischemia, a condition associated with diabetes that can result in amputation.

The new centre’s director Prof Tim O’Brien explained that the stem cells must be grown in the laboratory to generate sufficient quantities, following their isolation from the bone marrow of adult donors, and the facility will help Ireland to develop therapies for a broad range of clinical problems which do not have effective treatments today.

“It will also allow us to translate discoveries from the basic stem cell research programme led by Prof Frank Barry at the Science Foundation Ireland-funded REMEDI to the clinic, and to be competitive for grant funding under the Horizon 2020 programme of the EU,” he said.

Stem cell research in Ireland is in what scientists have described as a “legislative lacuna”, but this relates to use of embryonic stem cells and does not in any way inhibit the use of adult stem cells, Prof O’Brien explained.

“We can only engage in clinical trials with clinical authorisation from the IMB and approval from the hospital ethics committee, and we are currently seeking such approval for clinical trials,”he said.

“The license to manufacture is an essential pre requisite to seek permission to undertake clinical trials. The license certificate must be included with the clinical trial authorisation application.”

NUIG president Dr Jim Browne said the centre develops Galway’s role as a “med tech hub of global standing”, while Irish Medical Devices Association board member John O’Dea has pointed to the lucrative revenue to be earned from regenerative medicine products, valued at about €1.3 billion in 2013 and with a 40 per cent sales growth last year.

Some 70 per cent of pharmaceutical companies are working on regenerative medicine therapies – an area described as a crossover between biology and engineering – and NUIG estimates that there are over 1,900 cell therapy clinical trials under way globally.

(Report taken from the Irish Times)

Brain 2
New findings investigating the influence of a stress-sensitive genetic background on pain have been published in the leading journal in the field Pain, by NUI Galway researchers. The work, funded by Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council, was carried out by Dr David Finn and his research team in Pharmacology and Therapeutics, Centre for Pain Research and Galway Neuroscience Centre at the National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science, NUI Galway.Heightened pain in individuals who are stressed, anxious or depressed is a widely recognized but poorly understood phenomenon. A key factor is the contribution of genetic background and its influence on stress responding and emotional processing. A particular genetic background can predispose individuals to higher stress, anxiety and pain responses but it is not known why.

Previous findings have shown that pain is subject to influence by marijuana-like chemicals called endocannabinoids in a brain region called the rostral ventromedial medulla.  Working with Dr Finn, first author Dr Kieran Rea was able to show that a genetic background associated with higher stress and anxiety responses was associated with a greater pain response and a blunted response of these endocannabinoids in the part of the brain called the rostral ventromedial medulla.

Furthermore, this enhanced pain response was prevented by a drug that increased levels of these endocannabinoids in this part of the brain.  Further experimentation revealed that blockade of the cannabinoid CB1 receptor, at which these endocannabinoids act, exacerbated the pain response.

An increased understanding of how genetic background associated with stress and anxiety can influence pain is important from a fundamental physiological perspective and may also aid the identification of new ways of treating  persistent pain and the impact of  stress-related psychiatric disorders such anxiety or depression.

Click here to find out more…
reellife-science-image-1

ReelLife Science, a novel Science video competition, was recently launched in 316 primary and secondary schools by a team of NUI Galway staff and students. The competition aims to involve school children in Science in a fun way, developing their analytical, creative and communication skills, while enabling NUI Galway researchers and students to engage in Outreach in an innovative manner.

The initiative was conceived by NUI Galway’s Dr Enda O’Connell, a winner of the inaugural ‘I’m a Scientist, Get me out of Here, Ireland” competition in November 2012, securing funding for a science communication project. Additional funding to expand the project was awarded by the NUI Galway Students’ Union EXPLORE Innovation Initiative and the College of Science.

Now supported by a team of NUI Galway Science communicators, ReelLife Science will award a total of €1000 in prizes, while winners will also be invited to attend the Galway Science and Technology Festival on Sunday, 24 November in NUI Galway, where their videos will be on display to the general public.

Short (1-3 min) videos may be submitted by the invited schools consisting of all primary and secondary schools in Galway, and the 28 schools which participated in ‘I’m a Scientist, get me out of here, Ireland’ 2012. Videos will be judged by a panel of internationally recognised scientists, including Professor Rhodri Ceredig, REMEDI, NUI Galway and Professor Andrea Brand of Gurdon Institute, Cambridge.

Emma Dalton, Science teacher and Transition Year Coordinator in St Enda’s College Galway, said of her students’ upcoming participation: “I am very excited, as this competition offers an opportunity for students to step away from the curriculum and engage in Science in a more fun way. It is also an opportunity for them to guide their own learning and then, even better, to practice sharing what they have learnt with others. I am really looking forward to seeing the ideas they come up with.”

The closing date for submissions is Friday, 25 October. The winning videos will be displayed on the projects website, www.reellifescience.com, Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ReelLifeScience, and Twitter feed, @ReelLifeScience, where regular updates, Science news and blog posts can be found.

For further information visit www.reellifescience.com