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Press Release

Press release

HRB Chairman stresses importance of continued investment in health research

4 November 2008

The HRB will publish the HRB Annual report 2007 and A Picture of Health 2008 on Tuesday 4 November.

The HRB will publish the HRB Annual report 2007 and A Picture of Health 2008 on Tuesday 4 November. The reports highlight the major outcomes from the HRB work and funded research.

According to HRB Chairman and former MD of Wyeth Biotech, Dr Reg Shaw;

'Even when times are tough, it is essential that we continue to invest in research because it leads to better health outcomes and care. Our reports published today clearly demonstrate these benefits'.

'Industry invests more in research when profits are down because they are investing in the future development and security of the company. On a parallel, the future of Irish health care will depend on continued efforts to leverage additional funding for health research. The HRB are committed to leading a step change in health research in Ireland. When we invest in research, we invest in the future of Irish health care and it is important that we don't lose sight of this'.

'The HRB must maximise the benefit from our existing funding from the Department of Health and Children. But we also must be smart, sharp and innovative in our approach to seeking funding and building collaborations with others. This can be done nationally and internationally from public, philanthropic and private sources', he concludes.

The HRB currently have ?180 million invested across the Irish health research system. The Annual Report 2007 highlights just some of the key deliverables that will:

Deliver better effective treatments, therapies and medical equipment by funding innovative research programmes. Sample outcomes in 2007 include:

  • the discovery that using Manuka honey in the treatment of wounds, accelerates healing of the wounds and is also effective in the treatment of MRSA.
  • the identification of a protein involved in the spread of breast cancer and that measuring levels of the protein present may help to determine the aggressiveness of the cancer and dictate the severity of treatment required.
  • Finding out that there is economic justification to prescribe statins to people whose risk of heart disease is 15% or higher.

Create opportunities to develop research skills and capacity indigenously, such as ?19 million funding for four new HRB PhD Scholar schemes which will provide more structured and multi-disciplinary approach to PhD training. HRB scholars graduate from these schemes well equipped to meet the needs of an employment market outside 'academia'.

Support new infrastructure for health research, for example the announcement of a multi-million Euro HRB clinical research facility in Galway.

Ensure that decisions about health care are based on solid evidence for example; a new HRB report on alcohol highlighted health related consequences of problem alcohol use.

According to Mr Enda Connolly, Chief Executive at the HRB,

'Researchers in Ireland are conducting excellent health research that is delivering real results that will make a difference to people's lives. We think it is important to help people understand the link between investments in health research and the health care that they receive - our Picture of Health booklet, is presented in a way that helps make this possible'.

A total of 68 research projects and programmes were completed in 2007 representing a total HRB investment of ?11.5 million. The 17 stories highlighted in A Picture of Health provide a snapshot of how Irish health research is leading to better health care. 

This year's book includes stories that range from potential new solutions for snoring, to how exercise can keep our brains young, and from new findings that could provide a cure for thyroid eye disease to the benefits of monitoring baby brainwaves. The stories captured represent the work of 50 researchers in 13 hospitals and academic institutions across Ireland.

Some summaries from A Picture of Health are outlined below

A full copy of the HRB Annual Report 2007 and A Picture of Health are available online at www.hrb.ie/publications.  You can order a hard copy of A Picture of Health 2008 at no cost by emailing: pictureofhealth@hrb.ie or phoning +353 1 2345108.

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

Ends
Some research summaries from 'A Picture of Health 2008'
Antioxidants for snoring disease?

Researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland believe that antioxidants may be the key to curing obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA), a disorder often characterised by snoring. In OSA, the airway collapses during sleep leading to low blood oxygen levels (hypoxia).

Professor Aidan Bradford and his team found that hypoxia may actually make OSA worse by exposing the patient's tissues to oxidative stress, a factor that's already implicated in heart disease and other health problems.  Pro-oxidants made oxidative damage worse, while antioxidants reduced it. 

'We would suggest that antioxidant therapy might be beneficial in patients with obstructive sleep apnoea by helping to keep the airways open during sleep', he says.  This has not been tested in humans yet, but a diet rich in healthy fruits and vegetables might supply enough antioxidants to help beat OSA, giving snorers (and those who have to listen to them) a better night's sleep.

Exercise keeps the brain young

Physical activity can improve brain functioning which, in turn, could help prevent dementia according to new research from Dr Áine Kelly's team at Trinity College Dublin.  Her work focused on the hippocampus, a brain region involved in memory and learning.  Kelly's experiments measured hippocampal activity and learning ability in rats, as well as growth factor proteins called neurotrophins.  Some of the animals were exercised on a treadmill - for an hour a day for a week (similar to mild to moderate exercise in humans).

'We found that learning improved in both younger and older animals after exercise', says Kelly. They also found an increase in activity of a neurotrophin called brain-derived neurotrophic factor and are further investigating its role in protecting the hippocampus.  The take home message is that exercise protects our ability to think, remember and plan,' Kelly concludes. 

Monitoring baby brainwaves

Research based at Cork University Maternity Hospital aims to give the most vulnerable members of society - sick newborn babies in intensive care units - a better start in life. Some of these babies are at increased risk of developing seizures which, if untreated, may lead to brain damage or even death. Although seizures can be detected by an EEG machine, the specialist interpreters to analyse brain waves needed are in short supply. Dr Geraldine Boylan and Dr Sean Connolly are using data from a clinical study of 70 high-risk babies to develop a new automated seizure detection system that can be used readily at the cot side.  With the new machine, neonatal EEGs could eventually be performed as routinely as heartbeat and other vital physiological data collection.

Building on the success of this research, the team have received a new HRB grant to monitor this group of babies until they are five. They aim to find out whether seizures at birth can lead to learning difficulties or other problems later in childhood. 'Parents greatly appreciate the fact that we're monitoring their babies so closely after a difficult start in life', Boylan says.

Towards a cure for thyroid eye disease

Researchers at University College Dublin have taken an important step to a therapy for thyroid associated ophthalmopathy (TAO), also known as thyroid eye disease which causes painful swelling behind the eyes, protrusion of the eyeball, pain and double vision.  It is a complication of a thyroid condition called Graves disease. Principal investigator, Dr Tom Cawood, and colleagues used a lab model of TAO consisting of fibroblast cells cultured from eye-socket tissue from surgery.  'We rigged up a smoking machine so that we could expose our previously happy fibroblasts to the equivalent of a good night out in a Dublin pub, before the smoking ban', Cawood says.

Both cigarette smoke and an inflammatory molecule, interleukin 1, triggered the pathology of TAO.  Therefore, a treatment blocking interleukin 1 might dampen down the disease both directly and by helping prevent cigarette smoke from inflaming the whole process.

Heart disease - understanding one of the risk factors

Leafy green vegetables could help you beat heart disease because they contain folic acid, which can lower levels of a harmful substance called homocysteine. Professor Patrick Collins and his team at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland have been looking at why homocysteine makes the blood more likely to clot, raising the risk of a heart attack. They studied patients with different levels of homocysteine in their blood and found that exposure to homocysteine causes a molecule called integrin on blood platelets to change its shape.

'It is as if homocysteine can 'prime' the integrins so they will more readily bind to fibrinogen given some kind of stimulus', Collins says. Fibrinogen is a protein in the blood that interacts with integrins to aid the formation of a clot. Further research could reveal whether taking in more folic acid could help deal with the homocysteine risk factor.

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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