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Press Release

Press release

A Picture of Health 2009

10 November 2009

The Health Research Board published today 'A Picture of health 2009'. The report is just a sample from the 107 HRB funded research projects that were completed in the past year. Investment in these projects was more than ?24 million. The stories featured come from more than 55 researchers working in nine universities, eight hospitals, and four research institutes.

'This publication give us a sense of the scope, impact and value of Irish health research. The examples outlined show how research can improve people's health and enhance the way we deliver care. They also demonstrate how research can inform national health policies, generate cost savings and create opportunities for industry that will contribute to economic recovery', says Mr Enda Connolly, CEO of the HRB.

Selection of research summaries from 'A Picture of Health 2009' 
New therapy developed in Ireland offers hope for cancer patients worldwide.

Early trials of immunotherapy, a new cancer treatment developed by Professor Gerald O'Sullivan, University College Cork, look very promising, with as many as 60% of animals treated for cancerous tumours being cured in pre-clinical experiments. Professor O'Sullivan has now received permission to proceed with clinical trails on human cancer patients.The gene therapy/immunotherapy approach is dual action: it combines gene therapy (inserting genes into cells in the patient's body) with restoring the patient's immune response to a tumour.

'Our experiments showed that when the gene therapy made the tumour immune-reactive, the growth rate of the tumour slowed down. More importantly, secondary growths were also reduced. Cancer cells often have the ability to evade the immune system and therefore grow unchecked. Patients who have an immune response to their cancer do better than those who do not', notes Professor O'Sullivan, who envisages the gene therapy delivery system being administered in outpatient clinics by way of an injection.

In the case of internal cancers, such as gastrointestinal cancers, it could be delivered by endoscope. Gene therapy and immunotherapy are particularly suitable for treating this group of cancers, which are often resistant to standard chemothera

Treatment of MRSA moves a step closer as potential for vaccine identified.

The emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria -  of which methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is the most well-known - has become a serious worldwide public health problem. Joan Geoghegan, a PhD student working with a TCD research team led by Professor Tim Foster, has made an important discovery about an antibody which has potential as a treatment for MRSA infection. The antibody blocks fibrinogen binding which, essentially, prevents the bacteria from entering the body.

Professor Foster and his team have also been looking at how the immune system responds to ClfA, a surface protein from the MRSA bacterium. Certain variants of ClfA appear to provoke a stronger immune response and could be potential candidates for an MRSA vaccine. Professor Foster is now in talks with companies who may wish to develop this vaccine commercial

Caring for patients good for the carer too.

Contrary to the widely held view that providing informal care for a patient may be detrimental to the carer's health, a new study shows that it can have positive aspects. Carers have lower mortality levels, and this holds true for both men and women, irrespective of age, and even if they are ill themselves.

According to Dr Michael Rosato, based in the Centre for Public Health at Queen's University Belfast, caring for someone who is ill gives the carer a sense of importance as 'they are grounded in the world through a sense of responsibility'. Dr Rosato is one of a group of researchers who recently carried out an investigation into the health of carers as part of a HRB-funded fellowship stu

Supermarket stock control systems show hospitals how to save blood supplies.

Using the same ideas used by supermarkets to control stocks and avoid wastage, Professor Anthony Staines of Dublin City University and transfusion staff developed and deployed a statistical model to support more efficient ordering of blood. Introducing the blood stock management system helps ensure that blood is used before its 'use-by' date. This not only reduces the level of wastage, but has the potential to prevent unnecessary cancellations of elective surgery which depend on having the right blood at the right time.

Not all terminally ill people want to die at home.

Another study challenges the assumption that terminally ill patients would prefer to die at home. While almost all (91%) of patients interviewed said they would prefer to be cared for at home, only one-third wanted to die there and one-third would prefer to die in a hospice inpatient unit. The study shows that there is a strong demarcation line between the place where patients wish to be cared for while they are still in reasonably good shape, and where they wish to spend their final days.

'It may be that patients want to protect their families at the end of their lives and don't want to be a burden on them or leave sad memories in the home. They may also have a positive experience of hospice care through their own experience or the experiences of others', the study's author, Dr Sinead Kelly, a palliative care specialist in cancer at St Luke?s Hospital Dublin, commented.

These findings should be used to inform palliative care policy, the study concludes.

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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