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Press Release

Press release

HRB students deliver health research results with real impact

15 December 2008

UCC student wins HRB Watts Medal 2008. The Health Research Board has awarded the annual HRB Watts Medal to a Cork medical student, Aoife McSweeney, for her research which shows promise for treating pre-eclampsia, a condition that claims the lives of more than 100,000 expectant women worldwide each year. Aoife is one of fifty students who were funded by the HRB to undertake a summer research project. Eight finalists were selected to compete for the HRB Watts Medal 2008*.

'Patients with pre-eclampsia experience problems because their blood vessels do not transport nutrients effectively. This prevents oxygen passing through to the cells which causes oxidative stress', says Aoife. We know that an enzyme called PARP becomes overactive in conditions that are characterised by oxidative stress, so we wanted to test the effects of PARP inhibitors in a recreated model of pre-eclampsia to see how they would effect the dysfunctional cells'.

Working under the direction of Professor Louise Kenny in the Anu research centre at Cork University Maternity Hospital, Aoife discovered that by introducing a PARP inhibitor to pre-eclamptic cells in the lab, they could almost recreate the response of a normal pregnant woman's arteries. 'This would indicate that the enzyme PARP is a mediator in vascular dysfunctions, but that PARP inhibitors have the potential to reverse the effects of pre-eclampsia. This may have promise in terms of treating this critical condition', she concluded.

Other subjects addressed by the HRB summer students ranged from why the Irish population is most suited to finding the genes that cause disease, to whether diabetes could restrict the ability of anti-platelets therapies such as aspirin to treat heart problems.

'The work presented by the HRB summer students is outstanding. Their knowledge of their specialist field, enthusiasm and confidence is refreshing', said Enda Connolly, Chief Executive of the Health Research Board. 'This is the next generation of health researchers and we look forward to seeing the impact of their research on the health system in years to come'.

*The Watts Medal is named after Professor William Watts, former Chairman of the Board at the Health Research Board and former Provost of Trinity College Dublin. A total of 150 applications were received for the summer scholarships this year and 50 students were funded.   A full listing of the Watts Medal finalists can be found below. Photo quality images of the winner and prize giving are available on request.

Ends.
Results of the Watts poster competition:

First prize: TrĂ­ona O Riordan, Pharmacy Dept, UCC. An analysis of inappropriate prescribing of benzodiazepines in elderly patients admitted through the Accident and Emergency Department of Cork University Hospital.

Second prize: Colleen Warren, Physiology Dept, TCD. Inflammatory mechanisms of neurodegeneration.

Third prize: Alan Marsh, Microbiology Dept, UCC. Can good bacteriocins go bad? The contribution of Bsa to the competitiveness of community-acquired MRSA.

Finalists in the Watts medal competition:
  1. Characterization of genome-wide genomic variation in a refined West of Ireland population and correlation with risk for sporadic ALS. Kim Caulfield, Dept Medicine, RCSI.
  2. Overactivity of poly (ADP) ribosylation and vascular dysfunction in pre-eclampsia. Aoife McSweeney, Dept Medicine, UCC.
  3. Cell-cell interaction and modulation of microglial activation. Donal Carney, Dept Physiology, TCD.
  4. Self-disclosure, attitudes to mental ill-health and help-seeking behaviours in young adolescents. Maeve Daly, Dept Applied Sciences, IT, Sligo.
  5. Determining the origin of amniotic fluid derived stem cells. Emily Deasy, Dept Microbiology, TCD.
  6. Can good bacteriocins go bad? The contribution of Bsa to the competitiveness of community-acquired MRSA. Alan Marsh, Dept Microbiology, UCC.
  7. Effectiveness of Thienopyridine antiplatelet therapy in patients with Diabetes Mellitus: A meta-analysis. Emer McGrath, Dept Medicine, NUI,G.
  8. An analysis of inappropriate prescribing of benzodiazepines in elderly patients admitted through the Accident and Emergency Department of Cork University Hospital. Ms Triona O'Riordan, Pharmacy Dept, UCC.

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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