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Press Release

Press release

HRB launches 'A Picture of Health 2011'

1 December 2011

The Health Research Board today launched its annual Picture of Health publication, which highlights in non-technical language recent and exciting developments arising from Irish health research that it has funded.

Picture of Health 2011 outlines the findings and achievements of more than 40 out of 105 HRB-grants ended in 2010. It covers research into the origins and mechanisms of disease, how to translate discoveries into clinical applications and the experience of staff and patients in Ireland.

Speaking about the publication [launched this morning Thurs Dec 1st] Minister for Health James Reilly, TD said,

'I strongly believe in the value of health research. Health research can contribute to delivering a better healthcare system and improved standards of well-being.  This publication shows the relevance, value and potential impact of health research on people's health, the delivery of our health services and the formulation of health policy'.

Research highlighted in the 'Picture of Health 2011' includes translational projects that look at ways that could help restore sight, keep airways healthy, and manage high blood pressure in the community. Other projects dig into the biology behind conditions such as breast cancer, allergies and stroke to shed light on future ways to tackle them. And several studies explore the experiences of health service staff and users in Ireland, including people who need care for hepatitis C, staff and residents in nursing homes exempted from the smoking ban and young men who have overcome feelings of suicidality.

Mr Enda Connolly, Chief Executive of the Health Research Board adds,

'The Picture of Health 2011 captures just some of the immediate achievements that flow from the Health Research Board's investment in health research. Health research affects our daily lives. It develops our understanding of health and human diseases. It provides the evidence to help us to tackle health challenges, to improve our health care system, while at the same time it creates opportunities for economic benefits'. 

A total of 105 HRB grants were completed that year, resulting in:  

  • 105 new international collaborations.
  • 669 patients enrolled on cancer clinical trials across 14 hospitals.
  • 18 new products and interventions in development.
  • 38 PhD students trained across many health disciplines.
  • 59 influences on policy and practice.
  • Leverage of over ?11m in additional research funding.  

The full document is available online at www.hrb.ie.

From the 41 research projects featured, a selection of six is included below. The stories featured in the press release are:  

  • Dr Sally-Ann Cryan, RCSI, delivering drugs into the lungs.
  • Dr Steve Kerrigan, RCSI, and the link between mouth bugs and heart.
  • Dr Richard Horgan, Cork University Hospital, and finding early signs of pregnancy complications.
  • Dr Brian Keogh, TCD, and psychiatric patient experience.
  • Dr Liam Glynn, Gen. Pract. & NUI Galway, and blood pressure meta-analysis.

For more information contact:
Gillian Markey, Communications Manager
Health Research Board
m 00353 87 2288514
t 00353 1 2345103
e gmarkey(at)hrb.ie

Notes to Editors

The Health Research Board (HRB) was established in 1986. For the last 25 years it has been Ireland's lead agency in supporting and funding health research. The HRB's mission is to improve people's health, patient care and health service through leading and supporting research and generating knowledge and promoting its application in policy and practice. The HRB has supported research which has played a key role in innovation in Ireland's health system and its economic development.

Selected stories
New Technology to deliver inhaled genetic therapies effectively in lung disease

Drug-delivery technology developed by Health Research Board-funded researchers

New genetic-based medicines to treat chronic lung disease are on the horizon, but getting such therapies to where they need to go in the body can pose a challenge.

Now researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Beaumont Hospital have developed an approach that could effectively disguise and deliver inhaled genetic medicines into specific target cells in the lungs.

Their study is one of over 40 projects highlighted in the Health Research Board's annual Picture of Health 2011 publication. Launched on Thursday December 1st, the HRB Picture of Health communicates the findings of recently funded research to a general audience.

'Ireland has one of the highest rates of respiratory diseases, like cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in the world', explains drug-delivery researcher Dr Sally-Ann Cryan, a Senior Lecturer at the School of Pharmacy, RCSI. 'So there's a huge clinical need here, and also worldwide.

Current drug approaches for progressive lung diseases tend to manage symptoms, but future genetic therapies could potentially address the underlying disease mechanisms too', according to Dr Cryan.

However, in order to work they need to get to the right cells in the lung.

'One of the big issues in translating the wonderful genetic information that's coming out of initiatives like the human genome project is actually being able to deliver the genetic material to the living cells', she says.

So Dr Cryan and clinical partner Prof. Gerry McElvaney at Beaumont Hospital have developed a technology that uses biomaterials to 'disguise' the inhaled genetic material so that it gets taken up by immune system cells called macrophages. Once inside the macrophages, the genetic therapy can help turn down the process of inflammation.

The researchers have demonstrated that the delivery system works on cells in the lab, and they have been collaborating with Irish medical devices company Aerogen to optimise the technology. Preclinical trials are now underway to further test out the inhaled delivery systems.

Ends.
Brush your teeth to protect your heart

Researchers identify how bacteria can increase heart attack and stroke risk if they infect bloodstream

Watching your salt intake and giving up cigarettes are two ways to protect your heart, but here's another everyday tip: brush your teeth.

Looking after your teeth and gums could help keep your heart healthy too - by helping to keep dangerous bugs out of your bloodstream.

A study that has been looking at why an infection of bacteria in the blood can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke is one of over 40 projects highlighted in the Health Research Board's annual Picture of Health 2011 publication.

Launched by Minister James Reilly TD on Thursday December 1st, the HRB Picture of Health communicates the findings of recently funded research to a general audience.

One of the findings relates to the link between mouth bacteria, infection of the bloodstream and heart attack risk.

'Studies show that you are five times more likely to suffer a heart attack or three times more likely to suffer a stroke within the first 72 hours after a bloodstream infection', says HRB-funded researcher Dr Steve Kerrigan, a Principal Investigator with the Cardiovascular Infection Group at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

'Your mouth can harbour between 600 and 800 species of bacteria, most of which live there harmlessly, but poor oral hygiene can lead to bleeding of the gums and bugs can enter the bloodstream', explains Dr Kerrigan.

It's thought that once there, some bacteria can make platelets in the blood become 'sticky' and put the person at higher risk of forming clots that cause a heart attack or stroke.

Working with the common mouth bacterium Streptococcus gordonii, Dr Kerrigan and his team identified a particular protein, PadA, which appears to be involved in making the platelets sticky. The finding will help to inform the development of new ways to reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack from bacterial bloodstream infection.

'If we know exactly how the bacteria interact with the platelets then we reduce the need for antibiotics, we just stop the bacteria from interacting with the platelets', says Dr Kerrigan.

The findings also highlight the need for good oral hygiene habits to be established and maintained from early in life, he adds. 

Ends.
Risk of foetal growth problems detectable in mother's blood in early pregnancy

Health Research Board-funded scientist finds warning signals in bloodstream during early pregnancy

If a baby doesn't grow sufficiently while in the womb the consequences can be devastating: growth restriction increases the risk of stillbirth and immediate and long-term medical problems linked with low birth weight.

Now work funded by the Health Research Board has identified a potential way to identify in early-to-mid pregnancy women whose babies are at around 44 times higher risk than normal of intra-uterine growth restriction.

The study is one of over 40 projects highlighted in the Health Research Board's annual Picture of Health 2011 publication. Launched on Thursday December 1st, the HRB Picture of Health communicates the findings of recently funded research to a general audience.

The study on growth restriction is timely because we currently have no way of predicting in early pregnancy which babies could be at risk of not growing to their potential, explains HRB-funded clinical fellow Dr Richard Horgan.

But he has identified a particular signature of biochemicals measurable in the blood in early pregnancy that warn of an increased risk, and they could in the future be used to identify women who need closer monitoring as the pregnancy progresses.

Dr Horgan found a set of 19 key biochemicals in blood samples just 15 weeks into the pregnancy. The relative levels of these 'metabolites' could be linked with the risk of later growth complications.

'If these metabolites were found in early pregnancy, you were 44 times more likely to have a growth restricted baby than normal growth', says Dr Horgan, who worked with HRB Clinician Scientist Prof Louise Kenny and conducted the study at University College Cork and the University of Manchester, UK. 'The ideal future outcome from this finding would be a simple blood test in early pregnancy so you could identify the risks and then slipstream monitoring services towards those women who need them'.

The markers are now being validated in around 3,000 pregnant women through SCOPE (Screening for Pregnancy Endpoints), a major international study involving New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, the US, Canada and Ireland, which has received support from the HRB.

Ends.
Health Research Board-funded study identifies stigma faced by people hospitalised for mental illness

People who spend time in hospital for mental illness need better preparation before discharge to help them cope with negative attitudes

People who have spent time in hospital for mental illness face stigma when they return to the community setting, a Health Research Board-funded study has found.

The study is one of over 40 projects highlighted in the Health Research Board's annual Picture of Health 2011 publication.

Launched on Thursday December 1st, the HRB Picture of Health communicates the findings of recently funded research to a general audience.

It includes the findings of HRB-funded researcher Dr Brian Keogh at Trinity College Dublin who interviewed 31 service users who were hospitalised for mental illness and then returned to the community setting.

Around 70 per cent of total admissions to psychiatric hospitals are readmissions, suggesting that many people do not transition well back into the community, and Dr Keogh's research suggests that stigma is a problem they face.

'The participants felt ashamed that they were admitted to hospital, and when they came home from hospital this sense of shame was often reinforced by other people', says Dr Keogh, who is a Lecturer in Psychiatric Nursing at Trinity College Dublin.

'Mostly they managed this through concealing their mental health problems. They didn't tell anyone about them, and often they avoided other people completely and often other people avoided them'.

The findings indicate that better preparation is needed for mental health service users before discharge from hospital, he adds.

'People who use the mental health services need to be made aware that stigma is an issue and they need to be given skills and strategies to be better prepared to react or cope with stigma'.

Ends
Health Research Board-funded study identifies approaches to control high blood pressure in community based care

Patient self-management and organised follow up can help reduce high blood pressure

Chronically high blood pressure, or hypertension, can lead to serious medical problems such as heart disease and stroke - so keeping blood pressure under control is an important public health issue.

Yet only 25 - 40 per cent of patients who take anti-hypertensive drug treatment manage to achieve their blood pressure goals, and that figure has remained unchanged for decades.

But a study funded by the Health Research Board has identified practices in community-based care that could help tackle the problem. 

The research is one of over 40 projects highlighted in the Health Research Board's annual Picture of Health 2011 publication.

Launched on Thursday December 1st, the HRB Picture of Health communicates the findings of recently funded research to a general audience.

One of the studies included in this year's Picture of Health is a HRB-funded Cochrane review study led by Dr Liam Glynn.

The research analysed 72 randomised controlled trials in the published literature that looked at dealing with hypertension in the community-care setting. 

Overall, the review found that education aimed at patients or healthcare professionals does not appear to be effective - what works best is good organisation that sees patients regularly followed up and recalled for appointments.

Other strategies for success encourage patients to monitor their own blood pressure or involve other health professionals such as nurses and pharmacists in blood pressure management in the community.

'It has direct translation to everyday clinical practice', says Dr Glynn, a Senior Lecturer in General Practice at NUI Galway and GP in Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare. 'We need to improve organisation in terms of diagnosing, treating and following up patients with hypertension; and that can include nurse-led care, the use of technology such as text messages to remind patients to take their medication or come to appointments and also getting patients more involved in the monitoring of their own illness'. 

Ends.

For more information contact:
Gillian Markey, Communications Manager
Health Research Board
m 00353 87 2288514
t 00353 1 2345103
e gmarkey(at)hrb.ie

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