Background
Enda Kenny DC Visit

13th March 2014, Washington D.C.:

The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny T.D. presented Dr. Garret A. FitzGerald with the inaugural SFI St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal at an Science Foundation Ireland hosted event in Washington D.C. The SFI St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal is intended to recognise the achievements of a distinguished Irish scientist or engineer, living and working in the USA, in particular their contribution back to Ireland.

Welcoming the award, the Taoiseach said: “I very much welcome this opportunity to present the inaugural Science Foundation Ireland St. Patrick’s Day medal to Dr. Garret FitzGerald. This award recognises the contribution of individuals who are outstanding in their fields of expertise, and have made a notable contribution to Ireland’s heritage of knowledge and research. Dr. FitzGerald’s achievements in his field are hugely outstanding and it is important that we in Ireland join those in the international scientific community who have already recognised his significant contribution to science.”

Dr. FitzGerald’s research is focused in the area of biomedical cardiovascular pharmacology and in particular the effects of pain medicines on cardiac systems. He was instrumental in the discoveries relating to the use of low-dose aspirin in preventing cardiac disease and to date has been awarded both the Irish Times/RDS Boyle Medal and the 2013 Grand Prix Scientifique – considered the world’s most prestigious honor for cardiovascular research. Dr. FitzGerald is the McNeil Professor in Translational Medicine and Therapeutics at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he also chairs the Department of Pharmacology and directs the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics.

Dr. Garret A. FitzGerald, MD, FRS, said: “The US remains the most innovative and supportive environment in which to pursue scientific research and the ties that bind us have delivered wonderful opportunities to the Irish people to harvest that resource to the benefit of scientific development at home. This has been realised through training of Irish scientists in the US and through Irish – American scientific collaboration both in academia and industry – often supported by Science Foundation Ireland, itself modelled on the US National Science Foundation. It is a great honor for me to receive the St. Patrick’s Day Medal which reflects the scientific dimension of the long and happy relationship between our countries.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General of Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Irish Government added: “SFI’s aim in creating the St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal is to recognise individuals who are not only outstanding in their fields of expertise but who have also demonstrably assisted researchers in Ireland in either academia or industry—via mentorship, supervision, collaboration, industrial development, entrepreneurship. Dr. FitzGerald’s commitment to the education of Irish people while living in the USA is admirable – offering a competitive summer program for Irish secondary school students, as well as training countless scientific investigators from Ireland.”

The SFI St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal was commissioned by SFI in consultation with the Design & Crafts Council of Ireland. Jeweller Martina Hamilton, based in County Sligo, was selected to create the medal. An award winning designer with over 20 years experience as both a sculptor and silversmith, Martina’s design features a sterling silver orb with internal pattination mounted on a walnut base. Inspired by exploration and experimentation, the use of both positive and negative space in the piece represents scientific analysis and investigation. The orb itself reflects the recurring shapes found across many fields of science, from astronomy to microbiology.

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.

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