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Press Release

Press release

Health service to benefit from investment in new research leaders

26 September 2012

The Health Research Board (HRB) will invest €11 million to build capacity of research leadership in hospitals through its clinician scientist programme this year. The investment will allow leading doctors to split their time between clinical practice and research, develop research questions based on clinical issues they encounter with patients and to translate their research results into practice at the bedside.

Mental health, cancer, heart disease, neurodegenerative disease, diabetes, obesity, and neonatal care are just some of the areas that will benefit from this investment. The HRB also pay to replace the consultant's time in the clinic, so service levels remain the same.

According to Enda Connolly, Chief Executive of the HRB;

'The best hospitals in the world have research at their core. The HRB Clinician Scientist Awards is part of our strategic aim to develop a culture of research and innovation in the health services, both for the benefit of patients and the Irish economy'.

'These consultants will not only conduct research on real-world solutions and apply them in practice, but will act as mentors to encourage research career paths in medicine. They will also play a central role in developing research partnerships with academics, health decision makers and industry to ensure new evidence brings change in practice, policy and leads to new medicines, diagnostics and devices'.

Speaking at the launch, Professor David Vaughan, Directorate of Quality and Clinical Care at the Health Service Executive said;

'We recognise that research is central to driving innovation in health care. We have worked with the HRB on this initiative specifically because we want to build research pathways for health practitioners across the health service. Replacing these clinicians' patient facing time to maintain the existing quality of care has been central to the success of making these awards a reality in the hospitals'.

A total of eleven clinicians have been selected through a rigorous peer review process.  A short description of their ambitious work programmes is shown below.  

For further information, please contact

Gillian Markey
e gmarkey@hrb.ie
m  087 2288514.

The successful projects are:

Prof David Cotter, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Beaumont Hospital, aims to identify a number of blood-based protein and lipid biomarkers which will flag patients in who are at increased risk of developing psychotic illness. Early identification and treatment of people with psychotic illness significantly improves their clinical outcome so this project has potential to make a real difference to quality of life and reduce costs in the system.

Prof Kenneth McDonald, St. Vincent's University Hospital, Dublin and University College Dublin wants to lay the foundations for effective screening and management of early heart dysfunction in patients with diabetes. Patients with diabetes are predisposed to getting heart failure. At present we know relatively little about how heart dysfunction progresses in diabetics, and how to diagnose the problem without using costly and expensive scanning equipment. These pieces of information are critical to our efforts to put in place effective screening and develop and apply therapies in the most effective manner to prevent or slow the progression of this complication.

Dr Deirdre Murray, Cork University Hospital and University College Cork, will identify robust predictive biomarkers which can quickly identify new-born babies who have suffered brain injury due to an interruption to their blood supply and/or oxygen. There is very strong evidence that early cooling improves the infant's chance of survival and normal outcome. However, predicting which babies should be offered cooling therapy is difficult. This study will evaluate and validate these biomarkers to the point where they can be developed into a bedside test for use immediately after birth.

Prof Michael O'Dwyer, University Hospital Galway and National University of Ireland, Galway, aims to increase our understanding of the white blood cell cancer called Multiple Myeloma (MM). MM is incurable, and in patients with high-risk disease, who account for up to 25% of patients, life expectancy is less than three years. The project will discover new ways to reduce the ability of the cancer cell to move to other sites within the body and identify new ways to make the cancerous cells more sensitive to chemotherapy drugs. Ultimately, the laboratory findings will be applied to the clinic with the intention of improving treatment options for MM patients.

Prof Maureen O'Sullivan, Our Lady's Children's Hospital, Crumlin and Trinity College Dublin, is building on her previous work that successfully identified and characterised key gene mutations driving the development of soft tissue malignancies [sarcomas] in childhood. These cancers are currently very poorly understood and associated with limited or even absent treatment response and patients with these tumours generally have very poor outcomes. Her group will now study, on a functional level using cell models, how such mutations cause these childhood sarcomas with a view to developing targeted treatment for these cancers.

Prof Richard Costello, Beaumont Hospital and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, will examine ways to improve treatment for patients with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) who experience breathlessness, have a chronic cough, suffer recurrent infections and often undergo periods of heightened symptoms. The project will examine what triggers the extreme episodes. It will also measure how effectively people use their inhalers using an electronic device which has been developed by the team in order to establish whether a local pharmacist delivered education and feedback service could improve use of inhaled medications and assess if this reduces healthcare costs. A lab based study will investigate possible links between the number of coughs per hour with nerve length and density in airway biopsies which in turn could open up avenues for new drug development.

Prof Orla Hardiman (Beaumont Hospital and Trinity College Dublin) will investigate Motor Neurone Disease and and Frontotemporal Dementia (FTD).  70% of people with MND and MND/FTD die within 1000 days of their first symptom. Ireland is uniquely placed to perform detailed studies of patients with rare conditions like MND, and the Irish MND research group is a world leader in the detailed study subgroups of people with different variants of the disease. The work is of considerable importance as it will help to find new and more effective drugs. Drug development requires an extensive knowledge of disease mechanisms, the identification of the correct target group of patients for treatment, and the development of markers of both disease progression and of drug effectiveness.  The Irish work has already made a significant international contribution to our understanding of the importance of subgroups, and is engaged in extensive collaborative research with European partners to find new and more effective treatments. The research will also establish efficient and cost effective protocols for patient care and services for neurodegenerative diseases.

Prof Michael Hutchinson, Consultant Neurologist, St Vincent's University Hospital, Dublin and University College Dublin, aims both to discover genes that cause adult onset primary tortion dystonia and to understand the mechanisms of this form of dystonia and thus eventually new treatments. Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder which may affect anyone at any age. It is characterised by involuntary muscle contractions which force certain parts of the body into abnormal, sometimes painful, movements or postures. The abnormal movements start usually after the age of 30 years and remain for the rest of life; it is often treated with botulinum toxin. It is the third most common movement disorder after Parkinson's disease and essential tremor, affecting an estimated 3,000 people in Ireland.

Prof Joseph Keane, St. James's Hospital, Dublin and Trinity College Dublin, seeks to improve our understanding of how the bodies' immune system deals with infection by the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. Using material from patients, and bacteria from infected persons, he will investigate the ways that human immunity is corrupted by this invading parasite. Specifically, it will examine how normally helpful T-cells are interfered with by TB-infected lung macrophages. Advances in this field will lead to therapies that can take on resistant infections, improve vaccine design and better address the emergence of multiple-drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR).

Prof Peter Kelly, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital and University College Dublin, will use advanced scanning techniques (PET and MRI) on patients who have recently undergone a minor stroke in an attempt to identify those patients at high risk of a second disabling stroke. This would allow targeting of resources for more intensive prevention measures. The research builds on previous research by the team which showed that patients with minor stroke who have highly-inflamed plaque seen on PET scans are most likely to have a second stroke. Stroke is the third leading cause of death and leading cause of neurological disability in the developed world.

Prof John O'Leary, Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital, St. James's Hospital and Trinity College Dublin. A recently identified group of cancer cells called circulating tumour cells (CTC) seems to play a vital role in the way cancer spreads to different site within the body. These CTC cells are thought to direct the spread of cancer within the blood and lymphatic system and they appear to be able to evade treatments, like chemotherapy, that otherwise kill the main tumour. There are naturally occurring cells within the body, called Lymphoid cells (NK cells) which should be able to kill these CTC cells, but they don't. This project aims to study this process in detail with a view to developing therapies that work specifically against CTC cells.

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