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Press Release

Press release

Major investment in human genome research by joint SFI-HRB-Wellcome Trust funding

31 March 2015

Professor Brian McStay, from NUI Galway has secured €1.5 funding from the SFI-HRB-Wellcome Trust Biomedical Research Partnership to study uncharacterised regions of the genome that could advance our understanding of a wide range of human diseases.

According to Professor McStay, who works in the Centre for Chromosome Biology, School of Natural Sciences at NUI, Galway,

‘This project will explore some of the unmapped regions of the human genome that play a key role in how ribosomes, which make proteins, are made. We will look at the genetic factors that influence how ribosomes themselves are put together. 

We know that unregulated ribosome production plays an important role in many types of cancer, so a better understanding of what impacts ribosomes has obvious potential to help our understanding of cancer and a range of human diseases which are collectively termed ribosomopathies’.

Commenting on the award, Graham Love Chief Executive at the Health Research Board says,

‘This funding is not easy to get and competition is intense, so Brian’s success should be acknowledged.  Biomedical research like this, which will help us to better understand our fundamental human make up, is central to providing new avenues for scientists to explore in the search for better and more effective treatments’. 

Dr Michael Dunn, Head of Genetics and Molecular Sciences at the Wellcome Trust, adds,

'Wellcome Trust Investigators represent some of the very brightest minds in biomedical science.  We are delighted to make an award to Professor Brian McStay whose work aims to address an important aspect of basic chromosome biology that is still poorly understood.  The award provides generous, long-term, flexible funding, which we hope will enable Professor McStay to make significant advances in knowledge in this important field and thereby help the Wellcome Trust to achieve its mission of improving human and animal health’.

Professor Mark Ferguson, Director General Science Foundation Ireland and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland said,

‘The SFI-HRB-Wellcome Trust Partnership supports research into some of the most pressing biomedical and clinical research questions in health, ultimately delivering a social impact by enhancing the quality of patients care.  This joint funding scheme also boosts Ireland’s biomedical research credentials internationally, thereby attracting investment and ultimately creating jobs.  The fact that Professor McStay’s study secured the funding ahead of international competition underlines the quality of the world class research taking place in Ireland.’

More information is available from the HRB Communications Office. Professor McStay is available for interview, and a print quality of Prof McStay in his laboratory is available upon request

Notes for Editors

Brief overview of Prof McStay’s project:

The nucleolus is the largest functional domain in the nucleus of all human cells. Its primary role is the biogenesis of ribosomes, the complex machines that translate the language of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) in to proteins. Nucleoli form around arrays of genes that encode the major RNA component of ribosomes. These ribosomal gene arrays, known as nucleolar organizer regions (NORs), are located on the short-arms of five human chromosomes. Contrary to popular belief the human genome sequence is incomplete and missing regions include the NOR bearing short arms of human chromosomes 13, 14, 15, 21 and 22. We aim to describe the genomic architecture surrounding human NORs. This will involve de novo DNA sequence determination and identification of features that regulate the function and genomic stability of NORs. This research program will provide a description of how the chromosomal context of NORs influences nucleolar biology. It will also contribute to completion of the human genome and to a description of how it is organized in three dimensions within the human nucleus and how this changes through various biological processes. Finally, our work will also provide new tools for nucleolar research and exploring its role in human disease

Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) is the national foundation for investment in scientific and engineering research.  SFI invests in academic researchers and research teams who are most likely to generate new knowledge, leading edge technologies and competitive enterprises in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).  The Foundation also promotes and supports the study of, education in, and engagement with STEM and promotes an awareness and understanding of the value of STEM to society and, in particular, to the growth of the economy.

The Health Research Board (HRB) is the lead organisation supporting and funding health research in Ireland. We have a key role in building capacity for research, creating opportunities for researchers, driving translation of discoveries into practice and providing solid evidence to support policy. By doing this we will achieve better outcomes for patients, help drive efficiencies in the health services and create a stimulus for the health care industry in Ireland.

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health by supporting bright minds in science, the humanities and social sciences, and public engagement.

NUI Galway

NUI Galway is one of Ireland’s foremost centres of academic excellence. Over 17,000 students undertake an extensive range of studies at the University, which is renowned for the quality of its graduates. NUI Galway is a research-led University with internationally recognised expertise in areas including Biomedical Science and Engineering, Web Science, Human Rights, Marine Science, Energy and Environmental Science, Applied Social Sciences and Public Policy, and Humanities, in particular literature, theatre and Irish Studies. For more information visit or view all NUI Galway news at

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